Poor Louisiana parishes have higher COVID-19 death rates than wealthier counties nationwide

By: - April 5, 2022 9:03 am

(Photo courtesy of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Rocky Mountain Lab)

Data show people in the poorest parishes in Louisiana and comparable counties across the country saw higher COVID-19 death rates than wealthier areas, according to a report the Poor People’s Campaign released Monday.

The research was based on counties and parishes where residents’ household income is 200% below the federal poverty line.

Franklin and Bienville parishes ranked 18th and 19th, respectively, among the 300 poorest counties with the highest mortality rates. Union (164), Morehouse (203), West Carroll (304), Washington (238), St. Mary (248) and East Carroll (250) parishes were also listed in the “Poor People’s Pandemic Report,” which includes an interactive map with data on deaths, income and race on more than 3,200 U.S. counties.

“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.” Bishop William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said during a news conference Monday.

The report measures death rates on a per capita basis, or per 100,000 residents. None of the Louisiana parishes in the top 300 have a population that high, so the rate is extrapolated based on the total number of deaths related to COVID-19.

Franklin Parish, where the median income is $35,282, has recorded 159 COVID-19, which calculates to 794 deaths per 100,000 in population. Nearly 56% people in Franklin Parish have household incomes that are 200% below the federal poverty line, and nearly 70%  spend 30% or more of their income on rent.

Bienville Parish has a median income of $30,272 and almost 56% of its residents have household incomes that are 200% below the federal poverty line. There were 105 COVID-19 deaths in Bienville or extrapolated to a rate 783 per 100,000.

The lowest rate in Louisiana was found in Plaquemines Parish, which has reported 43 deaths or 185 in 100,000. Plaquemines’  median income is $57,204.

Ascension, the parish with the highest median income of $80,572, had a COVID-19 death rate of 220 people out of 100,000.

Out of the 300 U.S. counties with high poverty and COVID-19 death rates, Galax County, Virginia, had the highest death at 1,134 per 100,000 people.

The report also showed disparities between poor and rich counties through different surges in coronavirus cases, with higher death rates poorer counties compared with wealthier ones. During the Delta variant wave death rates were five times higher in in low-income counties, according to the report.

“The deadliest phase of the pandemic was in late 2020 to 2021, this winter surge,” said Shailly Gupta Barnes, People People’s Campaign policy director.  “After this phase … 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.”

The pattern of higher death rates for the most impoverished counties continued through the omicron surge, with rates still three times higher, Barnes said.

Other findings in the report:

  • The 300+ counties and parishes with the highest death rates have a poverty rate of 45%, which is one and a half times higher than in counties with lower death rates.
  • Median incomes are on average $23,000 less than counties and parishes with lower death rates.
  • The population across the 300 poorest counties is 56% white, 21% Hispanic, 16% Black, 4% indigenous and 1% Asian, accounting for approximately 2% of the U.S. population, or 7.5 million people.
  • In the poorest 10th percentile of counties and parishes, more than half of the population lives under 200% of the poverty line and people of color are over-represented.

The Poor People’s Campaign called on the Biden administration to tackle poverty and improve outcomes from COVID-19 for low-income 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,”  Barber said.


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Louisiana Illuminator
Louisiana Illuminator

The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization driven by its mission to cast light on how decisions are made in Baton Rouge and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians, particularly those who are poor or otherwise marginalized.