The coronavirus is a global threat, but the pandemic has an uneven impact across the U.S. It exacerbates existing inequalities and creates new challenges. I think this crisis can teach several important lessons about inequality in America: how it hurts, who it hurts the most, why that’s the case and what can be done about it.
1. Staying home is a luxury
For millions of Americans, staying at home is a luxury they cannot afford. The comfort and well-being of all Americans depends on grocery clerks, delivery drivers and factory workers putting their own safety second so they can stay on the job.
While the upper middle classes take their work with them, working and middle-class Americans are tethered to their jobs: 52% of college-educated people can work from home, as compared to just 12% of workers with a high school degree, and 4% of those without.
The same line cuts across race. White Americans are twice as likely as African Americans or Latinos to have the option to work remotely.
The coronavirus highlights just one dimension of the increasingly polarized U.S. labor market that offers varying degrees of autonomy for a lucky few, and precarious employment for the rest, marked by low wages, little to no benefits, a lack of control and security, and temporary contracts.
2. Wealth divides Americans
In the U.S., wealth — which includes savings, investments and the prospect of inheritance — is divided unequally. The wealthiest 20% of Americans have 90% of the pie. The poorest 20% are 6,000 in debt.