The Inequality of COVID 19

Date: August 31, 2020 | Categories: Hunger / Poverty / Inequality,

By December of 2019, the novel coronavirus had spread throughout China and was on its way to unveiling one of the biggest global crises in recent history. The Coronavirus spread to Europe and North America through airplane passengers and the health care systems of some of the wealthiest countries in the world were overwhelmed. Countries without these expansive resources were caught completely unprepared. Entire cities were shut down. Restaurants, schools and, shopping malls were closed, streets were empty. The activities of day to day life halted in their tracks. While the pandemic wreaked havoc on the global healthcare system, an economic meltdown had begun. In one sweep, restaurants lost their use for teams of hosts and waiters. Airlines that were forced to ground flights after strict warnings about travel suddenly did not need more than half of their staff. Supporting staff in schools were also left unemployed, so while teachers had to adapt to a new mode of online instruction, bus drivers, janitorial staff, and cafeteria workers were not needed. The gig economy collapsed as Uber, Lyft, and various other driving services were all deprived of consumers. The gaps left in the economy translated into empty dinner tables within weeks of the epidemic, and it was quickly discovered that the weight of the chaos would be unevenly distributed. While the upper and upper-middle class was facing substantial difficulty with the new normal of stay at home orders and social distancing guidelines, poorer people, and people of color were instead staring down personal financial crises while also finding themselves at the mercy of the coronavirus.

New York City became an epicenter of COVID 19 quickly, the densely populated city was perfect for the chaotic spread of the disease. A city known for its tremendous divide between wealth and destitution, it became apparent that there was a pattern in the statistics. Time Magazine did a study of the spread of COVID 19 in mid-April, which showed that though testing in low-income neighborhoods was less prevalent, cases were found to be much higher (Wilson).  As the intersections between wealth and race become apparent, cases of COVID 19 were also found to be higher in communities of color. Black and immigrant communities were especially vulnerable to the disease and were at the crosshairs of its spread. This may be to a multitude of factors, such as the fact that many wage-earning employees can not afford to take time off from work. Those that were laid off due to the pandemic, or furloughed until further notice could stay at home, but essential services that needed to remain open during the pandemic also employed many people from those lower-income families. Essential services are those that must remain open even in the case of a shut down- services like the grocery store or pharmacy, gas stations, postal services, disposal services. Essential workers were not able to protect themselves from the coronavirus amid changing guidelines from the CDC. They also needed to rely on modes of public transport, and thus were unable to follow social distancing guidelines effectively. A study conducted by Ball State University also found that COVID 19 cases were also worse in low-income people of color because of previous health care factors as well as lack of health care access. Immigrants and poor people of color tend to suffer from pre-existing conditions that make the coronavirus all the more debilitating- diseases like diabetes and heart disease. They are also less likely to have equal access to health care and testing. Furthermore, Finch and Finch hypothesize that as with the influenza vaccine, low-income communities will also have poor access to the COVID 19 vaccine when it is discovered.

The Coronavirus has also had a worse financial impact on low-income families and has what many fear will be a general setback in already fragile economic conditions. Many jobs- like the above mentioned- do not have the option of being conducted remotely, so employees, often the breadwinners, have been either let go or are forced to go to work at the risk of bringing home a serious illness. Families with small businesses may have been forced to shut down their only source of income. With weeks of unemployment looming ahead, many families could not afford to provide the basic necessities. According to a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most families considered to be among the “working poor” -earning minimum wages or from low-income households- did not have savings that would enable them to live without an income.  People already living in poverty were now facing destitution. Homelessness went from being a public nuisance to a public threat, as people living in close proximity could spread the dangerous disease. To deal with this national issue, the federal government realized that an effort was needed to assist society’s most vulnerable citizens. Congress passed an emergency act provided families with a cushion of 600 dollars in addition to unemployment benefits. This was much needed, as unemployment rose so much that there are reports of the website crashing. Millions filed for unemployment the weeks after the shutdowns. Along with this, multiple payments were made to families over a period of several months, helping to support families who needed some extra help. Other provisions were also made ensuring that COVID 19 testing could be acquired for free. Local and state governments also provided support. New York City organized hotel rooms for the homeless to help enforce social distancing, and in mid- April, around 20% of New York City hotels were participating in the program.

The Coronavirus does not seem to be going anywhere. In fact, experts warn that the coming year could be riddled with the same restrictions as this going one. The crisis, which happened to fall in the midst of an election year, has become as political as it is humanitarian. Every constituent has been affected by the COVID 19 pandemic, though the opinions are differing on whether precautions are necessary or unconstitutional. The right has taken the opinion that the pandemic is another excuse to police United States citizens, and the 2020 election year has become a showcase of this. In Donald Trump’s speech at the RNC, the majority of the audience remained unmasked. Legislation for further support is ongoing and will continue to be introduced and implemented for the duration of the pandemic. To support this legislation is a duty for all those who wish for there to be justice. A basic understanding of the dynamics of wealth and race in this country reveals that poorer people and people of color will continue to need assistance, and as the election year continues, and as the prospects of a new government is voted in this November, it is imperative that these people do not become a forgotten trope of opportunist politicians. The consequences of this election will affect not just victims of the disease, but all those who were left drowning in its wake.

 

Works Cited:

Cochrane, Emily, and Jim Tankersley. “Here’s What’s in Congress’s Emergency Coronavirus Bill,” March 14, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/us/politics/congress-coronavirus-bill.html.

Finch, W. Holmes, and Maria E. Hernández Finch. “Poverty and Covid-19: Rates of Incidence and Deaths in the United States During the First 10 Weeks of the Pandemic,” May 29, 2020. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsoc.2020.00047/full.

“A Profile of the Working Poor, 2016 : BLS Reports,” July 1, 2018. https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/working-poor/2016/home.htm.

Wilson, Chris. “How Coronavirus Hit Low-Income Communities Harder in NYC,” April 15, 2020. https://time.com/5821212/coronavirus-low-income-communities/.