Income Inequality and COVID-19: How the nation’s poor are coping

With the New Trier administration’s Mar. 19  announcement that school will be closed until Apr. 13, the expectation is that staff and students will put themselves in a state of isolation and continue to do school and professional work from home. 

While a major inconvenience, most people on the North Shore know they have a safe place to shelter themselves from the virus and that they will still have a job after the pandemic dies down, but many low-income workers cannot say the same. 

On Mar. 20, Illinois Governer JB Pritzker announced a statewide stay-at-home order, which extends through Apr. 7. 

For many workers, such as grocery store clerks, restaurant workers, and janitors, paid leave days such as these to come are non-existent, leaving many struggling to purchase necessities. 

 An additional stress-factor for those on the lower end of the income scale is that many of the businesses that employ them will no longer be able to afford to keep them after they will take the financial hit from closing their doors for social distancing. 

In efforts to provide a financial cushion for these Americans, President Trump is now calling on Congress to write checks to get low-income families through the crisis. The Senate Republican bill proposed a $1,200 dollar check per individual with annual earnings under $75,000, with an additional $500 per child. 

While well-intentioned, there are concerns about this government distribution. 

Because of the time frame, the checks would have to be universal as the process of financial evaluations for millions of people is impossible at the moment. 

Pritzker and Chicago Mayor, Lori Lightfoot, are doing their best to provide relief on a more local scale though by making sure no residents are evicted or go without utilities during the pandemic, “I have directed my administration to do everything in our power to support our working families. I’ve expanded unemployment eligibility for those impacted by COVID-19,” said Pritzker in the Mar.20 statement. “Most utilities have agreed to a moratorium on service shutoffs for residents who can’t pay their bills during this period. We have filed a federal waiver to expand COVID-19 related Medicaid coverage. And we’re working with the federal government to ease eligibility requirements for food assistance in programs like SNAP and WIC,” continued Pritzker. 

The Trump administration, though, has not ceased their plans to have tougher guidelines for who can receive food stamps, a rule that was completed in December of 2019 to take away benefits from nearly 700,000 people on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). 

With no income, this has left many workers with children forced to turn to local schools and food pantries for food.  

According to a 2019 Federal Reserve study, 40% of Americans could not come up with $400 to cover an emergency. many of these workers are the most exposed to the virus due to their line of work and if they contract the virus they likely will not receive the healthcare they need, consequently spreading the virus. 

While celebrities such as Pink, Billie Eilish, and Lady Gaga have taken to social media to state that going outside is selfish. Singer Miley Cyrus had a compassionate response towards the nation’s poorest.

“Be thoughtful. Respectful. Compassionate. Human… No one needs every soup in the store. The more we hoard expensive and sparse necessities the more we will become leaving many without essentials,” Cyrus wrote on Instagram. “There is enough to go around if we take care of one another. This is a beautiful time to lead. ”