Old Dominion University's annual State of the Region Report, delivered Oct. 6 by economists from the Dragas Center for Economic Analysis & Policy, demonstrated dramatically the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the region's minority communities, particularly the African American community.

The annual report, which in great detail illustrated the generational impact of COVID-19, stressed that the pain of the pandemic is not being felt equally.

In metrics ranging from infection and mortality rates, to employment disruption, to educational impact, data show the pandemic has been an acute challenge for minority communities, the report found.

"If you look at the industries in this region most affected by COVID-19 - retail trade, tourism and hospitality - those are industries which employ a large percentage of African Americans," said Robert M. McNab, professor of economics in the Strome College of Business and director of the Dragas Center

Even the gradual economic recovery in the region has placed this population at greater risk, McNab said, because these jobs are not able to be done remotely, unlike many professional positions.

McNab noted the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on the nation's African American population, including 20.8% of deaths from the disease, though African Americans comprise only 12.5% of the U.S. population.

U.S. residents of every race also saw a massive spike in unemployment rates at the peak of the pandemic in April. But African American unemployment rates have been the slowest to come down, still topping 11.5% in September.

In this region, there are not as many key economic indicators broken down by race. However, in September, more than 58% of unemployment insurance claims were filed by African Americans, who make up only 30.1% of the Hampton Roads population.

ODU, under the leadership of President John R. Broderick, created its Center for Social Mobility in 2018 to address challenges that low-income (primarily minority) students face because of structural inequalities in society.

"These trends exacerbate the racial income gap, perpetuate the cycle of poverty and leave well-paying jobs unfilled," Broderick wrote in a 2019 Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed. "Continuing on this path is untenable. As population growth among people of color continues to outpace that of white Americans and baby boomers exit the workforce, policy leaders must work to increase underrepresented students with college degrees and close racial gaps."

Old Dominion, which for the past four years has admitted incoming freshman classes composed of more than 50% minority students, is ranked in the top 15% of the nation's colleges and universities in CollegeNET's Social Mobility Index.

This year's State of the Region report, which features more analysis of the impact of COVID-19, is available at the Dragas Center Website.

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