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In theory, a pandemic should be a great equalizer. After all, no matter who you are — rich or poor, famous or ordinary — everyone can get sick. And death doesn’t discriminate.
Instead, the coronavirus has exacerbated America’s already deep inequalities. Now, the streets are filled with the reaction to that reality.
Three major upheavals — nationwide protests of racial injustice, record-setting unemployment and a deadly pandemic — are rocking our politics, our economy and our lives, and they’re deeply intertwined.
Take what Marcos Parker, a 19-year-old who was detained on a burglary charge in New York City, told our Metro reporter Jan Ransom when he was released on Wednesday.
“I won’t lie. I was looting,” he said. He said he had stolen merchandise because he had lost his job. “It was really this coronavirus,” he said. “I was working before corona.”
When it comes to the virus, the whole country is paying a price. But the costs of our sacrifices differ dramatically based on our race.
Black Americans are dying of Covid-19 at much higher rates than whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Counties with a disproportionately high black population account for more than half of the country’s coronavirus cases and nearly 60 percent of deaths, according to a national study by an AIDS research group.
To use just one example, in mid-April, all eight people who had died of the virus in Richmond, Va., were black.
Communities of color also shoulder a great share of the economic impacts of the virus.
Even before the virus, the gap between the finances of blacks and whites was larger in 2020 than it was in 1968, another year of upheaval, according to The Washington Post.
In 1968, a typical middle-class black household had $6,674 in wealth compared to $70,786 for the typical middle-class white household, according to data from the historical Survey of Consumer Finances that’s been adjusted for inflation. In 2016, the typical middle-class black household had $13,024 in wealth versus $149,703 for the median white household, an even larger gap in percentage terms.
“The historical data also reveal that no progress has been made in reducing income and wealth inequalities between black and white households over the past 70 years,” wrote the economists Moritz Kuhn, Moritz Schularick and Ulrike I. Steins in their analysis of U.S. incomes and wealth since World War II.
Less than half of black adults currently have a job, The New York Times reported this week. Black employees have reported being furloughed and laid off at higher rates than whites. Those who have kept their jobs are more likely to be deemed “essential” workers in industries exposed to the virus. Black workers make up 11.9 percent of all jobholders but 17 percent of front-line workers, one study found. Latinos are also disproportionately represented in many of these metrics.
While the protests were ignited by the killing of George Floyd and the issue of police brutality, the anger and unrest cannot be separated from the unequal cost of the virus.
Some activists and politicians have started to refer to the situation as a “pandemic within a pandemic.”
“We are managing that trauma and that loss,” Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts said in an interview Wednesday on “CBS This Morning.” “A public health pandemic and the scourge that is police brutality layered with the trauma of housing injustice, economic injustice, education injustice and health care injustice.”
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From Opinion: Social unrest and the election
Drawing on the work of the Princeton political scientist Omar Wasow, the Times columnist Ross Douthat argued this week that there’s much to learn today from the unrest of the 1960s. He quotes Mr. Wasow’s findings: “Proximity to black-led nonviolent protests increased white Democratic vote-share, whereas proximity to black-led violent protests caused substantively important declines.”
Mr. Douthat concludes, as Mr. Wasow’s research suggests, that violent protest was generally bad for Democrats — so much so that it was “enough to tip the 1968 election from Hubert Humphrey to Nixon.” That means any violent protests now could help President Trump’s re-election bid as a “law and order” candidate, he argues.
Jamelle Bouie, a columnist for the Times’s Opinion section, disagrees that today’s protests recall those of the 1960s. He writes, “Trump’s plan to campaign as the second coming of Richard Nixon shows the limits of historical analogy. It’s not 1968.”
Mr. Bouie draws a distinction between how the protests were understood then, and how they are understood now: “There appears to be greater sympathy for the protesters and their grievances, so much so that most public officials outside of the president and his closest allies have shown some understanding of the anger and discontent even as they oppose riots and disorder.” And our political climate of unrest, Mr. Bouie contends, “is happening against a backdrop of deprivation and deep inequality, not the relative prosperity of the late 1960s.”
Mr. Trump will have a hard time making the same “law and order” political case as Nixon did, Mr. Bouie says. Still, Mr. Douthat cautions that “recognizing how the politics of riots usually play out imposes a special burden to forestall and contain them.”
— Adam Rubenstein
“Hey guys, I’ve just reseeded that.”
The Australian prime minister’s news conference is interrupted when a man asks him to get off his lawn. (h/t Reid Epstein.)
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