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As Coronavirus Spreads, So Does Inequality Among Infected Persons

The coronavirus is deepening economic inequality throughout society, especially among those infected with the virus.

Research suggests that those of lower incomes are more at risk to catch the disease, die from it, and even if they manage to remain healthy they are more likely to suffer income loss. Additionally, inequality itself may be creating a multiplier effect on the spread of the coronavirus and it’s mortality rate.

As past research on influenza indicates, poverty and inequality often exacerbates transmission and mortality rates during an epidemic for people of all economic classes. Far from being a problem which only impacts persons of “lower economic strata,” this will affect the mortality rate universally. Wealth inequality, a problem that has plagued the U.S. for decades, is receiving attention now because it is not simply impacting low-income people.

This “mutually reinforcing cycle,” may be increasing the virus’s toll, as it effectively widens the socioeconomic divides that are major factors in the prevalence of right-wing populism, racial animosity, and deaths of despair. Public health experts confirm that these pre-existing vulnerabilities within society only get worse during a disaster, with the current pandemic being a prime example.

Each low-income family is at a higher risk of exposure, which can infect others. These consequences of inequality are most felt by the poor but have the ability to put broader society at risk. Two major factors that make the virus deadlier for those who become infected by it are old age and pre-existing health conditions. An underlying third factor is low socioeconomic status.

Sources: NY Times 03/15/2020; NY Times 03/06/2020