This is a time of crisis. The Coronavirus is a pandemic; human lives, particularly the elderly, are being lost, the global economy is at risk, services are strained, travel is restricted, and group gatherings are not permitted. It is a time when institutions must weigh the value of their services and their importance with potential virus transmission. The world is communicating, counting, and fearing one another. We are all deeply affected and mesmerized by this global pandemic. The world waits, poised and holding its breath for what the future holds.
While everyone is troubled, it is those who are poor who are again systematically disadvantaged. There is much in the life style of those with insufficient monies that increases their risk and susceptibility. Poor in the dictionary is defined as: lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society. It is not total destitution, but rather it includes large numbers of working and struggling families.
Poor comes in every color but it is disproportionately found in people of color. Racial prejudice leading to systemic and structural disadvantages renders those poor increasingly susceptible to illness and death. They may already be victims of the social system, but now their vulnerability is more obvious.
There are many reasons that the poor are disadvantaged. They may not enjoy a post high-school or professional education. They often work at low-paying jobs, with limited sick leave; in fact, lack of paid sick leave in the US is widespread. This means that while their daily expenses may be covered as long as they remain well and able to work, they have no reserve for illness or unexpected expenses. If they become ill, with limited or without health insurance, they are less likely to seek medical care.
As schools are closed and children are at home, the poor who need to work due to lack of adequate reserve, cannot easily afford childcare. There is increased strain as the children no longer benefit from school meals. And when their work halts because of the virus or it simply struggles with a reduced profit margin, the poor worker may not be able to continue to meet his/her usual daily financial demands. Debt, especially credit card debt, is a common at-risk situation, and recovering from debt is often unattainable.
The housing arrangement for those who are poor may also be at risk. Often the poor rent housing which necessarily requires a monthly payment to the owner. If they are purchasing a house there is a mortgage and taxes. Securing safe housing arrangements demands financial security and planning – luxuries for those who are poor. Poor families may live together which increases their risk. The poor often use public transportation, another risk in this time of widespread and poorly understood illness.
Social services are becoming strained and those who would normally donate are preoccupied with the high demands and with what is happening in the country and the world. This reduces the umbrella coverage which could provide additional helps for those in need. There is widespread illness. Society is asking people to stay at home in order to reduce the spread of the virus, but the poor cannot afford that choice if they can find work.
This is a difficult time for all of us, including those of us who can afford to stay home and stay safe. We all hope for a return to living virus-free. But before we embrace recovery, as people of faith, let us plan to create a new world. Let us come to the realization that systems of prejudice disempower everyone. Let us not desire our privilege at the cost of our brothers and sisters. Rather let us revise and renew our systems so that poverty is remedied. May the next novel virus not target, torture and kill the already victimized among us! There will likely be another virus, but hopefully not again in a world whose systems disadvantage some of the members more than other members.