The Pandemic is an Economic Genocide for Low-Income Americans
By Sabrina Sultana
It is undeniable that the coronavirus pandemic is an economic genocide.
The Trump administration and state officials’ policy making in the coronavirus crisis has failed to address marginalized communities. Low-income Americans are now left to independently navigate the exacerbated health and economic vulnerabilities associated with rising infections.
While many New Yorkers flee the city to their vacation homes near secluded areas surrounding the beaches and boardwalks (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/25/nyregion/coronavirus-leaving-nyc-vacation-homes.html), low-income Americans, especially racially marginalized groups, are forced to confront their exclusion from social safety nets. Despite the decrease in overall infection rate, the pandemic yields a disproportionate toll in low-income areas. In fact, the Bronx has been coined by the New York Times as “New York’s Virus Hot Spot” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/26/nyregion/bronx-coronavirus-outbreak.html).
The Bronx is notorious for high asthma rates and it is no surprise that the borough’s hospitals are plagued with respiratory issues. New construction sites and cramped housing disproportionately impacts the rates of transmission, and ultimately, mortality. Public health experts have continuously emphasized washing hands, usage of masks and sanitizers, and social distancing. However, preventative discussions surrounding the pandemic rarely, if never, addresses residential inequalities.
Due to the stay-at-home order, physicians are cancelling appointments until further notice, which inevitably delays regular follow ups. Not only does this affect people who struggle with asthma and lung issues, those who suffer from chronic conditions such as cholesterol or heart disease are at a greater risk of worsening health due to the transition to telemedicine. Virtual consults has not been the best alternative as it excludes regular surveillance lab work and other tests to measure the severity of chronic health conditions. Lack of regular testing, that would otherwise be followed up on pre-COVID-19, can potentially lead to a decrease in early detection of worsening diseases.
The changes in health institutions is hardly the only form of disparity contributing to the economic genocide. Many essential workers require regular contact with people unlike white-collar workers who are able to work from home. For many of these essential workers, utilizing a cab service to travel is an unaffordable alternative due to its high costs leaving them to commute to work by train, bus, or both. It’s crucial to consider such exposure risks for essential workers when considering increasing chances of transmission within their families, especially those with pre-existing respiratory issues.
On the contrary, the economic fallout from the pandemic has left many local services, restaurants, and mom-and-pop stores out of business at least for the time being. As a result, thousands of low-income Americans are faced with economic struggles such as affording rent and groceries. Although unemployment claims have increased, they do not incorporate other income such as tips depending on the employer (https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-will-supercharge-american-inequality/608419/). With furlough and school closings, electricity and internet bills are expected to be higher to support children taking remote classes. For some, access to resources such as a computer or internet is difficult and, thus, becomes an additional anxiety-inducing component in managing the rise in cost of living.
The pandemic stirs fear, anxiety, and frustration in low-income areas but this is not to say that this crisis caused these underlying disparities. The pandemic reinforced the already existing holes in our country’s policies regarding public health and safety. Once again, health mortality and preventative actions ignores discussions on accessibility, social and economic divisions, and environmental limitations in marginalized communities.
Although testing and resources have expanded in higher-risk communities, it is crucial for organizations to mobilize together for outreach and awareness on sharing educational, social, and financial services.