Across America, from Milwaukee to Chicago, from New Orleans to Detroit, urban poor communities are being ravaged by the coronavirus. The media has been quick to point out the disparity in terms of race: in Michigan, for example, black residents made up around 40 percent of coronavirus deaths as of April 9, even though only about 14 percent of the population is black.
Yet the same disparity exists in nearly every other urban center. From environmental racism to underfunded schools, from food deserts to Covid-19, social inequality means less access for poor people to healthcare, social services, treatment for mental health and addiction, and clean drinking water. In fact, cities like Detroit and Chicago have greater levels of wealth inequality than most Central American or sub-Saharan African countries.
In other words, while systemic racism plays an important part in the disproportionate numbers of black people affected by the virus, poverty more generally is the greatest determining factor. As the pandemic spreads to more rural areas, we will no doubt see a greater number of poor people of all races and ethnicities being affected. Read more here. See also here.
Reordering Our Priorities in a Pandemic
When congress passed the historic stimulus package providing one-time cash payouts for many, if not most, citizens and hundreds of billions of dollars for small businesses and large corporations, it neglected to extend additional funding to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). According to experts, SNAP is one of the fastest and most effective ways to get help to those facing economic crisis. It is true that states can use some of the money they receive in the bailout to help shore up and bolster SNAP benefits (Michigan, Illinois, Texas, and Florida have taken this tack). But states have other needs for these funds and SNAP is a federal program.
Also unaddressed in the bill was financial support to cover medical costs for people who contract the illness, although the bill does provide financial support for hospitals. Furthermore, since 30% of people in the last year who had health have decided not to go to the hospital because of the high cost of healthcare (deductibles, co-pays, emergency room visits) we can assume that cases of Covid-19 will go undiagnosed and untreated, and presumably more people will die. A one-time payment of $1200 doesn’t come close to making up for all of the people who, at least according to the priorities of the government, clearly don’t matter.
Profiting during Covid-19
For decades we have heard our leaders claim that the economy is doing well on the basis of insanely strong stock market numbers. But what exactly is the relationship between the general and economic wellbeing of working and poor people and the performance of the stock market? When Trump first proposed reopening the country for Easter (despite exponentially rising deaths from COVID 19) Stocks rose.
In the words of Jon Schwartz of The Intercept, it is “time to reevaluate our treasured belief that a rising stock market reflects general human flourishing.”
D. B. Ruderman
*Article revised on April 26, 2020.