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How COVID-19 is exposing inequality in America

  • How COVID-19 is exposing inequality in America

    The COVID-19 pandemic is one of those sweeping problems that no one can escape. Unless you have an underground bunker in which you can hole up for months on end and a way to access food and resources that requires zero human contact, you face at least some risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Plus, most of us will deal with the fallout from all the economic problems—mass unemployment, business closures, and stock market woes.

    But even though no one’s life has been untouched by the pandemic, some groups have been affected far more deeply than others. Older adults, people with disabilities, and those with underlying health conditions are at a much higher risk of serious complications related to COVID-19. People of color and other minorities have accounted for more coronavirus cases in many states, despite making up a smaller share of the overall population. People who live in rural communities have less access to health care facilities than their urban-dwelling counterparts, leaving them in vulnerable positions should they get sick. And low-income people work jobs in industries that have been more susceptible to layoffs and often lack the savings that can help them make ends meet if their paychecks suddenly disappear.

    Many of these disparities are nothing new, but the COVID-19 crisis is casting a spotlight on inequality in America—especially in regard to class, age, and race. To find out how different groups are faring, Stacker researched news, government, and health reports from March to June 2020. These inequalities vary across different categories: race, gender, age, city type, economics, education, and social groups. Some of these inequalities were more prevalent at the start of the pandemic, while others are still going on right now, but the research suggests that COVID-19 will leave lasting impacts on all of the groups and industries that have been disproportionately affected.

    When it comes to the COVID-19 crisis, many groups have faced sizable hurdles that are making it much harder to grapple with the challenges. Click through to learn about the ways that the coronavirus is amplifying inequalities in America.

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  • 40% of Americans can't cover a $400 emergency

    The gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. has been widening over the last few decades, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent thanks to the financial difficulties from the pandemic. Around 4 in 10 Americans would have difficulty covering a $400 emergency without going into debt, according to the Federal Reserve. That means an unexpected health care bill, a loss of a job or hours at work, or another financial hiccup could put people in this demographic into a debt spiral.

  • Older Americans have more age-related health problems than seniors in other countries

    When it comes to aging-health problems, the U.S. ranks 53rd out of 195 countries, according to a 2017 study from The Lancet. The high levels of diseases related to aging combined with the fact that the risk of COVID-19 is higher for older adults with severe underlying medical conditions further exposes how seniors are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

  • People in rural communities have less access to health care facilities

    Not only will rural communities see fewer federal relief dollars than other localities, but they also have less access to health care than their metro counterparts—a dangerous situation, given that some rural areas have yet to hit their peak infection rates, according to Olugbenga Ajilore of the Center for American Progress. Most rural counties lack intensive care units at their hospitals, while others have no hospital at all, according to Kaiser Health News.

    [Pictured: Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center, Poplar Bluff, Missouri.]


  • Rural cities have less access to government resources than big cities

    COVID-19 has also exposed inequality at the geographic level. The federal CARES Act allocates states with $150 billion and localities with $30 billion to help with relief efforts. The $150 billion won’t be enough to cover state budgets, though, and since rural towns won’t see money from the $30 billion locality fund, they may be left behind in the recovery, reports Olugbenga Ajilore of the Center for American Progress.

    [Pictured: Athens, Georgia.]

  • Stimulus checks leave out some tax-paying students and immigrants

    When the pandemic hit the U.S., the government created new financial benefits (such as a $1,200 stimulus check) to help struggling Americans. However, those measures didn’t help everyone equally. Around 15 million immigrants and 15 million adult children (including students) still claimed by their parents as tax dependents were excluded from the CARES Act, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

  • Industries with the most job opportunities pay the least

    Job seekers may be facing a grim future for their careers compared with people who continued working. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many of the industries with the most expected job growth are also among those that pay the least.

    [Pictured: Smithfield Foods, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.]

  • Wealthy Americans have more ways to protect themselves from COVID-19

    Your wealth (or lack thereof) can make a big difference in your ability to protect yourself from COVID-19. Wealthy people can fly out of town on a private plane to ride out the pandemic in secluded locations, while many other people may be forced to stay in crowded cities and risk exposure to the virus while taking public transportation to work, reports Max Abelson of Bloomberg.

    [Pictured: Ocean Drive, Newport, Rhode Island.]

  • Only 47% of the bottom quarter of American wage-earners get paid sick days

    While 93% of workers who earn the highest wages get paid sick time, the same can only be said for less than half of the bottom quarter of wage-earners, according to Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute. That may leave low-paid workers at greater risk of spreading the coronavirus (or getting infected by it) if they have symptoms and can’t afford to take time away from the job.

  • Workers with multiple jobs often can't get paid sick leave

    While some cities and states require that companies provide paid sick time to employees, workers’ access to that benefit can vary quite a bit—a problem that the coronavirus has spotlighted. Workers who hold down multiple jobs often can’t accrue sick time that they can actually use, notes Alana Semuels of Time.


  • Millions of the poorest, sickest Americans have no access to health care

    Fourteen states, most of which are located in the Plains or the South, have turned down the Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion. That’s created more inequalities in the health care system and potentially leaves millions of the poorest, least healthy Americans more vulnerable to not getting the treatment they need if they get COVID-19, according to Aaron van Dorn, Rebecca E. Cooney, and Miriam L. Sabin of The Lancet.