Global poverty is both fuel for COVID-19 and one of its byproducts. There has been considerable focus on essential workers in publicly praised positions, and rightfully so. Nurses and medics are assuredly not the only workers on the front lines. Many essential workers must make the unfair choice between their safety and their rent. For instance, an article in Brookings features Sabrina Hopps, a housekeeping aid at a nursing home. She emphasizes the pressure in cleaning during a pandemic; if she does not do her job with the utmost care, she runs the risk of exposing herself and others (much older) to the deadly virus. Yet, while an important position like this with such long hours might be deemed essential, it is not treated as such. She is paid a very low wage and she does not have access to the same equipment as do nurses and doctors, even though she works just as closely with people. Brookings emphasizes that most of these essential workers who are “phlebotomists, home health aides, housekeepers, [and] medical assistants…” are women and people of color. They are consistently exposed to the virus and are not compensated accordingly.
Alina Selyukh of NPR writes, “[Essential workers] are falling sick and dying even though their work was never supposed to be about life and death.” Poverty has been a global crisis for a long time, but this virus has made it clear that low-wage workers are considered paradoxically both necessary and undervalued. Workers have had to ask for “basic protection against the virus,” like gloves and masks. While cook Bartolomé Perez, in his 30 years with McDonald’s, has been on strikes for better working conditions before, he has never seen his co-workers fall ill and die.
USA Today reminds readers that COVID-19 is actually shedding a light on systemic problems we need to collectively handle. Another crisis of whatever form will come in the future and while preparation is key just as it was for COVID-19, the majority of the globe will suffer if poverty is still deepening as it is today. When news of the virus first arrived, the CDC recommended that the population prepare itself and stock up on food and avoid public settings. While this can significantly weaken the virus, low-wage workers can follow up on neither of these pieces of advice, with no spare change to buy more products than necessary and no option to stay home from work (either because they are essential or because they cannot afford to.) USA Today points out that high exposure just strengthens the virus for the entire population; anyone who is unwillingly exposed will inevitably pass it on.
One of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development goals is to put an end to poverty by the year 2030, and they have made a considerable amount of progress within the last decade. However, according to the World Institute for Development Economics Research, this effort may be reversed by COVID-19 and for the first time since 1990, we will likely see poverty “increase.” This means that there could be as many as 580 million more impoverished people by the time we have defeated the virus. UN WIDER calls for international superpowers to support developing nations as they pick up the pieces; otherwise, we cannot expect to defeat COVID-19 in the first place.
We must begin now to eradicate poverty during the COVID-19 crisis so that no one is disadvantaged for the future crises which will inevitably arise as we progress through human history. Only by ending poverty will the world become a better place.