Apr 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus brings inequality into sharper focus

Illustration of a person with everything an a person with little.
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic is laying bare America's stark class inequality and, some experts say, should lead to more urgent policy conversations about housing, wages and worker rights.

Why it matters: The real measure of a city's resiliency is the ability of its residents to survive a crisis and bounce back.

  • While recovery from a natural disaster tends to focus on physical infrastructure, a public health and economic crisis like this is highlighting the deficiencies of U.S. social infrastructure, said Jeff Hebert, partner at urban planning firm HR&A and former deputy mayor and chief resilience officer for New Orleans.

Driving the news: The latest Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index out Wednesday finds Americans with less education and lower incomes have been far more likely to keep showing up to work (and risk getting sick or spreading the virus) or to see their work dry up completely. The affluent, meanwhile, have maintained their jobs — and economic security — virtually.

  • "This is going to drive home the consequences of economic inequality in our country and the ripple effects of that on everyone," said HR&A's Kash.

What to watch: In the wake of this crisis, Kash and Hebert expect discussions to focus on tenant rights, housing assistance, worker rights, and policies related to incomes, paid sick leave and unemployment insurance.

Emergency response is more clear cut after a natural disaster. In other words, once a hurricane dissipates, a region can focus on recovery — and lean on other regions for support.

  • That's not an option right now, because the disaster is continuing while authorities everywhere tackle a prolonged response.
  • "We're in uncharted territory right now because we're going to be in emergency response for a very long period of time," Hebert said. "Everyone's in a crisis at once."

Go deeper: How the pandemic will reshape cities

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