Global poverty is one of the most prominent risk factors for the pervasive COVID-19; fighting poverty now will pave the way for a better future
Global poverty was a crisis well before COVID-19, but now the number of impoverished communities is rising due to the current pandemic. It is both a cause and a severe symptom of the virus. In order to prepare for another crisis and lend aid to the hundreds of millions of people who have recently been stripped of jobs and resources, the United Nations’ goal of eradicating poverty must become a priority.
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.
According to USA Today, low-wage jobs put employees at significant risk for COVID-19. Disadvantaged essential workers have no choice but to report to their jobs and put themselves in danger if they want to continue to support their families. So, it seems safe to say that while essential workers are undervalued, paid insufficiently so that they are living paycheck to paycheck, and not given the proper materials to protect themselves, then poverty is actually a complex and intersectional issue the globe should be tackling right now. According to Maria Godoy of NPR, marginalized communities in the United States have been suffering from systemic discrimination that has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. Co-chair of Louisiana’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force Thomas LaViest explains that the only way to study the virus is to collect data on who has it and where it is traveling to. However, testing centers are not as effective as they are publicized to be, he explains, because the areas where the virus has been the most deadly are predominantly low-income African American neighborhoods where many people do not have regular access to a vehicle to make it to testing centers. NPR explains that in 32 states, “African Americans are dying at rates higher than their proportion of the population.” The connection between poverty and COVID-19 is nuanced. USA Today notes that there seems to be a “moral crisis” in the United States. Eradicating poverty is too simplistic of a goal, especially since women and people of color make up most of the population of essential workers who are financially struggling. Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale School of Medicine, explains that a lot of the advice from political leaders has been very specific to privileged populations. Urging people to stay home does not consider the variety of conditions someone might be coming “home” to; perhaps an overcrowded community with people who are regularly exposed to COVID-19. She explains that action needs to be taken now rather than following the pandemic, because the virus disproportionately affects lower-income communities. Officials must advise essential workers on their rights in the workplace and on how to keep themselves safe on their commute. While poverty should be eliminated, it is imperative that we remember poverty is only fueled by its intersection with systemic oppression and is one of the very reasons COVID-19 is as powerful as it is.
Rejecting the premises