Louisiana State University’s (LSU) Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs has teamed up with former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s E Pluribus Unum organization on new research that studies the lived experience of COVID-19’s Black residents and essential workers throughout the Baton Rouge metro area. Existing data demonstrates that COVID-19 impacts Black Americans at higher rates than other racial groups, but the narratives and lived experiences of Black individuals navigating society, particularly as essential workers amid COVID-19, are often absent from conversations.
Lead investigator David Stamps, Ph.D., an assistant professor in strategic communication at the Manship School of Mass Communication and a Reilly Center Research Affiliate, took a deeper look at the personal stories surrounding Baton Rouge’s communities of color during the COVID-19 epidemic. “The data is clear—Black Louisianians are seeing a disparate impact from the coronavirus pandemic,” Stamps said. “But we hope this research will allow policymakers to better understand and engage with how communities, particularly Black essential workers, are navigating COVID-19 and tailor resources to address their needs.”
E Pluribus Unum founder and president Mitch Landrieu said, “We are pleased to present this narrative-forward study with LSU. It is clear we are divided by design, and these findings underscore how this COVID-19 crisis has impacted Black communities, particularly in Louisiana. Part of our work includes changing narratives so we can create a more just, inclusive and equitable South. Lifting up the stories of these residents, many of them essential workers, is a critical part of that work.”
Key Findings (based on 322 Black Baton Rouge residents, 48% male, 49% female and 3% non-gender binary; ranging from 18 to 76 years of age with an average age of 35):
- Black Baton Rouge Residents in the Home
Forty-five percent (45%) of respondents have someone in their household with a serious health condition such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease or cancer. Eighteen percent (18%) of respondents have someone in their household that works in a health care setting. Forty-five percent (45%) of respondents have someone in their household employed in a position identified as essential work.
- Black Baton Rouge Residents & Family Support
Fifty percent (50%) of respondents reported having supported family financially before the pandemic, and since COVID-19, there is a reported two percent (2%) increase among respondents who now support family members financially.
- Black Baton Rouge Residents & Family Dynamics
Twenty-nine percent (29%) of households have multiple generations, including grandparents, living together. Eight percent (8%) of respondents stated that family members or friends have moved into their homes since the beginning of the pandemic, with an average of two additional people moving in.
- Black Baton Rouge Residents, Emotional and Practical Support
Participants noted that during the pandemic, there is increased reliance on familial and community support, primarily using technology to call, text, FaceTime or use Zoom. This level of communication was aimed toward checking on the emotional well-being of family and community members and aiding in helping others seek vital information on navigating the pandemic, including locating resources such as masks.
- Black Baton Rouge Residents & Expressed Community Needs
Roughly fifteen percent (15%) of participants stated the need for additional monetary support in the form of cash and supplies, such as toiletries, from both family, community members and organizations. Open-ended questions aided in offering narratives among respondents that shed light on the needs of Black Baton Rouge residents. For example, a 25-year-old female shared, “My elderly neighbor is an EBT recipient. I try to do most of her shopping for her. But [government] should put in the work to allow EBT recipients to use their benefits online.” Also, a 38-year-old female shared, “There needs to be better access to medical care and special transportation for the elderly in our community.”
- Black Baton Rouge Residents Housing & Medical Care
Thirty-three percent (33%) of respondents mentioned that there was not enough money “once in a while,” in the household for rent or mortgage pre-COVID. That figure rose by four percent (4%) since the pandemic.
Key Takeaways from Data
Black Baton Rouge residents, similar to many other Black populations across the United States, have been hit the hardest—compared to their racial counterparts—by the pandemic. Based on the findings, it becomes clear that access to resources, including use of new media technologies, are crucial in supporting the community. These findings suggest that increasing digital literacy and accessibility (ex: the use of debit cards, SNAP and EBT online) and mitigating the digital divide, would help support communities as they seek to utilize digital spaces, such as shopping online and telemedicine services, to order supplies and medications. Also, financial support, directed towards individuals, local small businesses and nonprofits are crucial, as relying on support from family, community members, and local organizations such as churches was a large theme throughout the data.