Unlike 9/11 and other catastrophes that served to unite our country, the coronavirus pandemic illustrates our country’s tragic polarization—urban vs. rural, red states vs. blue states, rich vs. poor, and most especially, whites vs. people of color. Not only have people of color been disproportionately impacted by the virus, but a sizeable portion of white America has shown itself to be unsympathetic to their plight. It would appear that many of Trump’s “base” view people of color, the dreaded “other,” as an enemy, and resent them for disturbing their blissful illusion of an America made “great again.” They not only don’t care if their fellow citizens suffer, they out and out dismiss all the fuss: how dare the “other” ruin their wonderful MAGA fantasy? To their way of thinking, the “liberal elites” are once again using people of color to attack THEIR COUNTRY. It’s not COVID-19 that is the problem, but the existence of people of color. There are two viruses out of control in our country: one is COVID-19 and the other is racism. COVID-19 may be new, but racism is as old as white people coming to America.
What Trump called the “greatest economy in the history of the world” was already a disaster for many Americans long before the COVID-19 crisis. Far too many Americans were living paycheck to paycheck, barely surviving. For all the President’s obnoxious blathering about a booming stock market and low unemployment, our country had a dysfunctional healthcare system, increasingly unaffordable housing, insurmountable student loans, and most especially, an unacceptable and ever-growing wealth gap —indeed, ours was a society with inequality spiraling out of control.
To claim someone is employed when they’re barely working part-time, or working two or more jobs just to survive, is totally misleading. As for the stock market, it only reflects the financial health of a small portion of the population (it’s estimated that the top 10% own approximately 85% of stock, and much of that is concentrated among the top 1%!). Unfortunately, the top 1% was all too happy to condone Trump’s policies, such as his massive tax cut for business and the wealthy that was disguised as a “middle class” tax cut, but in reality only exacerbated America’s growing inequality.
The COVID-19 crisis revealed who our country’s “essential” workers really are. They aren’t the professional, white collar, college educated people who generally make up the top 10%, and certainly not the top 1%. No, they’re the first responders, healthcare workers, grocery clerks, delivery people, truck drivers AND meat packers whose hard work enables the rest of us to survive. These people need to be paid something approaching the real value of their work, and have a real shot at their fair share of the “American Dream.”
Given their location in high-density, urban areas like New York City, low income people of color proved especially susceptible to a virus that spreads by way of human contact. They have jobs that require them to interact with the public, commute on crowded public transportation, and often live in overcrowded apartments based on the cost of housing. It’s easy to see why their situation was a recipe for disaster.
In addition, these people are often uninsured and have underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk of serious illness and death from the virus. And whether they get sick or not, they are among the least equipped in our society to weather the economic storm created by the pandemic. Many were among the first to lose their jobs and had no savings to fall back on.
The pandemic’s many victims will continue to make themselves evident as the virus continues to forge a path of destruction throughout the country. For the Millennial generation, those entering their prime working years who haven’t even recovered from the blow of the Great Recession of 2008, are at particular risk regardless of their skin color. Even before COVID-19 hit, those without a college degree had little chance of recreating their parents’ wealth, and many with a degree were saddled with so much college loan debt that they were hardly better off. Now the unemployment brought about by COVID-19 is making their situation worse. Depending on the economy’s ability to recover, and our government’s ability to hasten that recovery, an entire generation is in danger of losing its future. And the young people directly behind them, those in college and just entering the job market, may fare even worse.
Right now, small businesses are closing in droves and many large businesses, such as Hertz and J.C. Penny, are going bankrupt. We’re talking major consolidation, which means less competition, which in turn means lower wages and most likely fewer jobs. If that is permitted to happen, all the problems of the pre-COVID-19 economy, most especially the growing wealth gap, will only get worse.