A Pandemic and Neo-Conservative Capitalism are Killing the Working Class
Disasters cause loyalists. People look to our leaders for help, and — whether they receive it or not — are easily swayed into looking optimistically towards the future. Political figures give heartwarming speeches about how we will get through this as a nation, as we “always do”, and, among the heroic doctors and samaritans spending countless hours working to solve the crises, billionaires who chip into various charities are regarded as benevolent humanitarians. Rinse and repeat.
But for now, the subways remain crowded with working people, all of whom would rather be home. They’re stocking the aisles of Target with the necessities that those at home, with the luxury of safety, will be ordering online. Fast-food workers will still be in contact with dozens of customers. First responders will continue to work tirelessly, knowing that the next emergency could be the one that infects them. Everyone knows how you get the virus; only some have the security to keep away from it. Stimulus package efforts, supposedly aimed at alleviating the impact of the working people, have been underwhelmingly, unsurprisingly mediocre. The Federal Reserve’s corporate fund, however, will manage to provide around $4-$4.5 Trillion to the wealthiest corporations in the nation. As the Washington Post’s Helaine Olen puts it, “The just-passed stimulus bill is not only a missed opportunity to permanently give American workers the benefits enjoyed by those in other wealthy countries, but yet another successful cash grab by corporate interests and the wealthiest among us. The bill is facilitating a corporate coup.”
Research suggests that the poorer you are, the likelier you are to catch, and die from, COVID-19. In New York, nineteen of the twenty neighborhoods with the lowest percentage of positive COVID-19 tests have been in wealthy zip codes. Meanwhile, the highest concentration of cases is in neighborhoods with low average incomes, largely populated with immigrants and minorities. Since America does not provide a single-payer healthcare system, coronavirus patients only visit if they’re insured. Those who suffer from the virus are doomed to an ugly dilemma: either go to the hospital and try to survive the medical expenses, or stay home and try to survive the virus. Those who have been laid off are scraping together whatever they can to pay next month’s rent. Whoever may keep their jobs, in these neighborhoods, are reliant on buses, subways, or some other form of mass transit where the virus can spread with ease. Substandard housing, and the sharing of homes between families or roommates, also facilitates the spread of the virus. Minorities are, like in most nationwide disasters, most affected. In Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, black citizens make up for 80% of coronavirus-related deaths, while only making up 26% of the population. Illinois, Michigan, and Louisiana make up the three states where the rate of black coronavirus-related deaths triples their population. Nationwide, black Americans make up 18% of the population, but they have counted for 33% of COVID hospitalizations.
The pandemic’s impact on low-income communities and working-class citizens is inextinguishable, economically, than the recessions of years prior. However, America’s stock market has held strong. It’s easy to see why: the airline industry, for example, has received $58B in funds from the federal government in the stimulus package — with a reprieve from paying the fuel or cargo tax. The Federal Reserve has pumped $2T into lending markets to prop up the unstable stock market, almost like a scene from Weekend at Bernie’s. While Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike are quick to defend the needs of the wealthy, blue-collar workers are either being laid off or working in disastrous conditions. A record 17 million jobless claims have been filed in America in March, with those who remain in work fighting for their right to safety. Two weeks ago, bus drivers in Birmingham and Detroit went on strike over the lack of protective gear and benefits they received on the job. Despite the growing lethality of the working conditions in hospitals, grocery stores, or meatpacking factories, many companies have taken their workers for granted. Nonetheless, corporate America has left its workers in the dust, flexing its muscles with a bailout that will provide substantial funds at the taxpayer’s expense. Talk about adding insult to injury. America’s Randian idea that one’s worth is defined by their rank and productivity as an employee is grossly misleading, and contradicted by the criminal lack of caution conducted by billion-dollar organizations that remain open. They simply do not care about you.
Pseudophilanthropists such as Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg are chipping in a minute’s worth of wages to various charities and organizations. Don’t be fooled by their charity work; these tax write-offs are used for nothing more than your complacency. Some ask — “why not be grateful? They could have donated nothing at all.” — that’s exactly the kind of complacency they’re looking for. They will let you hold a few pennies, as long as you don’t ask for a dollar bill. The pandemic’s effects on lower-income communities — many of which work under Bezos and Zuckerberg, by the way — could be reduced to a fraction, if billionaires and their corporations provided livable wages and full benefits to their employees. During the crisis, they’ve flown themselves to remote homes for an early summer vacation.
Many people were inevitably going to die from this virus. The working class didn’t have to be first in line.