Poor counties nationwide including FL had higher COVID death rates compared to wealthier counties

New report calls for a moral meeting in the nation’s capital

By: - April 4, 2022 4:28 pm

Bishop William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, speaks during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol May 20, 2021. Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

People living in poorer counties across the country and in Florida were hit hardest with COVID-19 death rates during the global pandemic compared to wealthier counties, leaders from the Poor People’s Campaign said Monday.

The group released a report entitled “The Poor People’s Pandemic Report” and an interactive map that included data on deaths, income, and race based on more than 3,200 U.S. counties. Data in the report was based on people living below the 200 percent poverty line.

During a press conference Monday, advocates discussed the findings from the report that showed poorer counties were connected to negative health outcomes from the pandemic, compared to wealthier counties.

Out of the 300 U.S. counties with high poverty and death rates from COVID-19, Union County in Florida ranked number 34, with a death rate of 728 per 100,000 people and a cumulative death total of 111.

The median income for residents in that county located in the North Florida was $44,270. Nearly 70 percent of the residents are white, while about 22 percent of residents are Black. About 42 percent of people in the county were living below the 200 percent poverty rate.

In contrast, for example, in the northeast part of Florida on the Atlantic, St. Johns County’s death rate was only 190 per 100,000, and its median income is $82,252, according to the analysis.

The Florida Phoenix has yet to receive a response to a request for comment from officials in Union County.

“The finding of this report reveals neglect, and sometimes intentional decisions to not focus on the poor.”

– Bishop William Barber II

Bishop William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said during the news conference. He added, “This devastating report shows that even after more than two years of this pandemic, we do not have a systemic way and assessment of poverty and income and its impact on COVID-19.” he said.

Out of the 300 counties with high poverty and COVID-19 death rates, the county with the highest death rate was in Galax County located in Virginia, with a death rate of 1,134 per 100,000 people. Many counties in Georgia and Texas were among the top 20 in the analysis, with high poverty connected to COVID deaths.

In Florida, Citrus County had a death rate of 606 per 100,000 people and 907 cumulative deaths. The county’s median figure is at $44,237. About 39 percent of residents in the county were living below the 200 percent poverty line.

In contrast, Collier County, in southwest Florida, had a far lower death rate of 250 people per 100,000. The county’s median figure is at $69,653.

During the press conference, leaders from the group called on the Biden administration to address poverty in the nation and ways to improve outcomes from COVID-19 for those struggling Americans.

“It is further evidence why we have called for the president at the White House to meet with a diverse delegation of poor and low-wealth people for some nine months now,” said Barber.

“This report shows why we must have a moral meeting in the nation’s capital.”

Meanwhile, the findings from the report showed disparities between poor and rich counties during different waves of the coronavirus, with death rates higher in poorer counties compared to wealthier ones.

For instance, during the phase when the Delta variant was prevalent in the nation, “death rates were five times higher in these low-income counties,” according to the report.

“The deadliest phase of the pandemic was in late 2020 to 2021, this winter surge,” Shailly Gupta Barnes, policy director for the PPC, said during the press conference.

“After this phase, you know, this is when vaccines become available to the general public. But then we get Delta, and death rates are five times higher for poorer counties.”

“And after that, omicron and death rates are still three times higher for the poorest counties,” she added.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.