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How the Coronavirus has Highlighted America’s Social and Economic Inequities

by Laurin Azrin and Sophia Alexandrou

During this time of vulnerability for every American, social, and economic inequities have proven just as prominent as ever. Low wage and minority groups have suffered the consequences of this pandemic more than any other group. As people start to lose their jobs, those who were already living paycheck to paycheck are falling even more behind.

According to Time Magazine, less-educated workers often take jobs that require human contact. 86% of U.S. workers have jobs in the service industry, while more educated workers have more accessibility and can work from home on a computer. These service industry workers are left in a lose-lose situation: either they are out of work for this period, left without a paycheck and a way to pay for food and rent, or they are forced to go into work and face a dangerous situation for them, their families, and their customers.

The pandemic has also made clear the disparities in workers’ benefits. While 90% of the top quarter of American-wage earners have access to paid sick days, only 47% of the bottom quarter does. The workers who make less are forced to go to work, even if they feel sick or are afraid to compromise their health during this time because those rights are not granted to them like they are to higher wage earners.

Striking statistics based on race have also highlighted major inequalities that have raised many questions. According to the Washington Post, the rate of infection may be up to four times higher for African Americans. This has left unanswered questions, leading to the thought that the economic vulnerability that many minorities face may bring on poorer health outcomes, if resources aren't stable or reliable.

Racial inequalities play a role in other ways too, like the worry of paying for treatments if exposed to the virus. In the U.S., Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, and African Americans are less likely to have health insurance. The economic and emotional stress that this brings creates an even more worrisome situation for these groups.

According to the New York Times, 26% of Americans deferred health care last year because it was too expensive, and 1 in 4 Americans have skipped a doctor’s recommended test because it was too expensive. People already in this position are now left with more worry and anxiety about the pandemic, for if they were to cross paths with it, it has the potential to destroy them economically along with physically.

This pattern is not new; Research in New Haven, CT showed that the rate of infection during an influenza outbreak nearly doubled in low-income areas where most residents lived below the poverty line. Poor worker protections have also increased spread of diseases in the past, during the Norovirus outbreak (highly contagious stomach bug), where data from the CDC indicates that 1 in 5 food service employees went to work while exhibiting symptoms of out of fear of losing their job.

We clearly have not learned from the past, as each time America faces a major health risk, the people who are already the most vulnerable continue to be the ones who suffer the most. Our government and legislators must be made aware of these disparities, so policies and laws can be put in place to close this gap.

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