Journalist explains how brutal a pandemic can be for Americans ‘living on the margins’

Journalist explains how brutal a pandemic can be for Americans ‘living on the margins’
Royalty-free stock photo ID: 172496525 Doctors: Anonymous Medical Team

Europeans know all too well how life-threatening coronavirus can be: in Italy, the pandemic has claimed at least 827 lives. But there are some key differences between Europe and the United States when it comes to coping with coronavirus: millions of European workers have universal health care and government-mandated paid sick leave. And journalist Will Bunch, in his column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, asserts that coronavirus underscores the need for the U.S. to have a stronger social safety net.

Bunch references a New York Daily news article by Diana Hernández, who is an assistant professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and lives in the South Bronx. In her article, Hernández described the ways in which working class people in the South Bronx are coping with coronavirus compared to affluent Americans — and Bunch interviewed her after reading it. Hernández told the liberal columnist, “The black and brown folks who work for these corporations have to show up on their line or at their cleaning facility, because they’re taking care of the things that can’t be taken care of remotely.”

Bunch applauds Hernández’ article for illustrating “the many ways that the cruel inequalities of modern U.S. capitalism weigh on working people.”

The columnist explains, “Walking down a Bronx boulevard the other day, (Hernández) witnessed scenes much different from the TV news version of the coronavirus crisis, where suburbanites stuff payloads of squeezably soft toilet paper and price-gouged Purell in the back of luxury SUVs. Instead, Hernández wrote that she witnessed Bronx shoppers at her local Dollar Tree stocking up on bleach, a tiny four-pack of toilet paper or a three-pack of Cup Noodles — stockpiles for families that lack cash for day-to-day emergencies, let alone the uncertainties of a global pandemic. She called it emblematic of how hard the coronavirus crisis is for people living on the margins.”

A “pandemic-inspired fear of the unknown,” Bunch writes, has “finally caused at least a slight bump in awareness of the kind of problems that everyday folks, working two or three jobs in a gig economy, have been screaming about for years.” Those problems, Bunch notes, range from “surprise billing” with health care to being “uninsured or underinsured” to lacking paid sick days.

Bunch writes that “in 2020, a liberal is a conservative who’s been exposed to the coronavirus.” And he wonders if, ultimately, the pandemic will lead to a stronger social safety net in the United States — the type that Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have been calling for.

“If calling this ‘disaster socialism’ makes you politically uncomfortable, then just call (it) simply a more humane America,” Bunch asserts. “But the coronavirus has exposed an underlying sickness in modern U.S. society that too many of us have tried to avoid for too long. It’s time to embrace the cure."

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