It is almost always the case that when disaster strike, people living in poverty end up being affected disproportionately. A lack of resources limit both these families’ ability to prepare for emergencies and their ability to recover. As the novel coronavirus spreads across the country and more Americans are contracting COVID-19, we can expect that low-income Americans will be hit especially hard.
Here are some of the ways in which low-income people will be disproportionately impacted:
- Poor Americans are much more likely to be uninsured, and as a result, much less likely to receive medical care. Without regular medical care, they are more likely to have underlying health conditions that may make them more susceptible to the worst effects of COVID-19, resulting in a higher mortality rate. Even without underlying medical conditions, the inability to afford healthcare may keep some from receiving treatment, exacerbating symptoms, and perhaps even prolonging the course of the disease. The problems caused by lack of health coverage are especially a problem for states like Kansas that have not expanded Medicaid.
- Those without health insurance may also be less likely to get tested when they exhibit symptoms, and therefore may not know that they have been infected with the coronavirus. Some could unwittingly be passing on the virus, meaning that a lack of insurance coverage is a health threat for everyone.
- With little or no money to spare, low-income people are less able to stock up in anticipation of quarantines or travel restrictions.
- Some poor children rely on meals provided at school to meet their nutritional needs. If schools are closed for a period of time, these children may lose access to their only certain meals of the school day. Extended closures will exacerbate food insecurity for thousands of families.
- Since low wage workers are disproportionately employed in industries that are most likely to experience some of the most severe effects of restrictions on travel and measures to encourage social distancing (restaurants and hotels, for example), these individuals are the most likely to experience unemployment resulting from the spread of the virus and measures to control it.
- Necessary measures intended to limit the spread of the virus, such as social distancing, may also harm poor people. If workers are forced to stay away from work temporarily, low-wage jobs are the most likely to involve tasks that cannot be done at home. In fact, these jobs, which often involve caregiving and customer service, are more likely to involve direct human contact than most higher wage jobs. For those low-wage workers who do have jobs that are amenable to working remotely, they still may not able to do so because they are less likely to have access to broadband Internet connections. Since low-wage jobs rarely include paid leave, these workers are faced with the prospect of long periods of lost income whether or not they actually contract the coronavirus.
In light the outsized impact that low-income people will endure, KACAP urges employers and policy makers to consider these burdens and take steps to lessen the impact on low-income citizens. These steps should include the following:
- Extend health coverage so that low-income people can receive testing and treatment they need. Tests should be provided for anyone free of charge. Congress should make more Medicaid funding available and grant waivers to states to ensure that Medicaid covers the cost of treatment. Finally, the Legislature should send a Medicaid expansion bill to Governor Kelly immediately.
- Additional nutrition assistance, through measures like temporary increases in SNAP benefits, is needed to address the increased food insecurity that many families will face.
- The federal government should provide additional funds for states to extend unemployment insurance benefits, and states should be prepared to extend the period of eligibility these benefits. Work search requirements should be relaxed, especially for infected or high-risk individuals
- Employers should provide paid leave for workers unable to work due to illness, quarantine, or temporary closure of workplaces. The federal government should provide funds to assist small employers make this leave available.