Hopefully this column finds you with an endless supply of toilet tissue, paper towels and bottled water, all the stuff necessary for self-quarantine and survival during a global pandemic, i.e., if you can afford it.
It’s a laughable point but underscores, in the mass hysteria of the coronavirus pandemonium, that it helps to be rich during a pandemic.
Because, if you’re well-heeled, you can purchase and hoard pallets of food and supplies. If you have the financial means, you have the luxury of working from home and watching your children, who are home due to school closings. It may be inconvenient, but it’s manageable.
However, my hometown of East St. Louis and communities with similar economic challenges are likely to be devastated by the impending self-distancing, shutdowns, closures and restrictions that have created a new normal that the poor are least equipped to handle.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has, wisely, chosen to temporarily limit crowds to gatherings of 50, closed schools, bars, casinos, the DMV and other public offices, as well as limited restaurants to drive-through, curbside and delivery services.
Given the lack of direction and abysmal mismanagement of this crisis by the Trump administration, it was the only thing to do and buys needed time to slow and eventually stop the spread of the virus. But in the interim, East Boogie and other low-income communities will, unfortunately, bear the brunt of these abrupt changes to their reality.
For instance, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics only a third of workers have the ability to work from home. Only 31% of workers with salaries in the bottom 10% have paid sick time, while 92% of high wage earners receive paid sick time.
Approximately 8% of African-American and Hispanic workers earn wages below the poverty level, are most likely to live from paycheck to paycheck and work in low-income jobs such as nurse’s aide, cooks, grocery store clerks, nannies, food service and janitorial jobs, which can’t be done remotely.
These are the people, the working poor, who can’t work from home, don’t have the disposable income to stockpile food and supplies, and who can’t afford to be quarantined for any amount of time.
By and large, low-income children rely upon free and reduced breakfast and lunches provided by their schools. And if their schools are closed, this puts an additional financial burden on their parents, exacerbated by an inability to suddenly afford childcare.
If, God forbid, a quarantine scenario arises, poor families have limited access to healthcare, compounded by the likelihood of living in smaller homes, with shared kitchens and bathrooms and a minimized capacity to self-distance themselves. This nightmarish reality is in stark contrast to those who are financially capable of living in more spacious accommodations.
And what about those who are incarcerated in America’s overcrowded prisons, a disproportionate number being poor and black? There is no room for social distancing in prison and many prisoners already tend to be medically fragile.
For the poor, it’s an additional layer of trauma atop an already stressful existence. Yet, amazingly, I have heard nothing put positivity among those in East St. Louis; especially the elders who have lived through hard times, from depressions, recessions to personal loss.
Studies show that panic and worry suppresses the immune system which, in turn, increases our capacity to become ill.
Many of those that I’ve spoken with are from the faith community. To a person, they are preparing for the worse but praying for the best. That’s wisdom that can’t be found on CNN, MSNBC or Fox News.