Coronavirus

Harvard Docs Say Trillions in Reparations Needed to Address COVID

A new study blames systemic racism for COVID spread in black community

Getty Images

Researchers at Harvard Medical School say they've found the key to reducing coronavirus infections in the black community: trillions of dollars' worth of reparations.

A study published last week in the Social Science & Medicine journal found that paying $250,000 in reparations to individual descendants of slaves, or $800,000 per family, could have mitigated coronavirus transmission rates among black Americans. The Harvard study analyzes the effects of "pre-intervention" reparations—or payments if they had existed before the coronavirus pandemic—on COVID-19 contact rates and transmission of the virus.

Dr. Michelle Morse—one of the Harvard Medical School assistant professors who led the study—told the Harvard Crimson that reparations "could have been as effective" at combating the coronavirus in African-American communities as a vaccine. Duke University professor William Darity, an economist and reparations advocate who co-authored the Harvard study, recently estimated that such payments would cost up to $12 trillion.

The Harvard team's research was conducted as part of the Lancet Commission on Reparations and Redistributive Justice, which is expected to release a full report on worldwide reparations this summer.

The study was published days before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties held a hearing on H.R. 40, a bill that would establish a reparations task force to study the lasting effects of slavery and segregation and "recommend appropriate remedies." More than 170 Democrats have cosponsored the bill, which has gained traction since Democrats took control of Congress in January.

The Harvard researchers picked Louisiana—which has one of the highest income distribution inequality rates in the country—to represent racial disparities across the United States. The scientists compared rates of coronavirus transmission in the Bayou State with those in South Korea and hypothesized that rates of coronavirus transmission among black Louisianans would have been lower if reparations had already been in place. The study also notes that "wealth redistribution would decrease the ability of affluent whites to cloister themselves in a setting of relative exclusivity."

Reparations would have reduced overcrowded housing within the black community and provided black Americans with more access to personal protective equipment. Payments would also have kept black Americans from being forced to take jobs as frontline workers, the study said.

The White House on Wednesday said President Joe Biden would support creating a commission to study reparations. Last fall, Biden tapped reparations advocate Mehrsa Baradaran to work on his Treasury Department transition team.

Some localities have already taken steps to institute reparations: Asheville, N.C., passed one form of reparations that would help boost home ownership and career opportunities for black citizens in July. And the California state legislature established a reparations task force to analyze the effects of slavery on black residents in September.