The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the dark and disturbing injustices and inequities that have always existed in our health care, economy, and government. Though the virus may not discriminate, our humanmade systems and structures do. And in the United States this means that those who are feeling the impact of this disease most acutely are those who have been historically, structurally, systemically, and politically marginalized and oppressed.
In revealing these injustices, the COVID-19 pandemic must cause us to reflect individually and collectively on the brokenness of our society and world and to commit, with renewed vigor, to addressing these injustices and working toward a more just, equitable, and inclusive future — one that uplifts the God-given dignity of all people.
Globally, this is both a health crisis and an economic crisis. In the United States, we face an additional reality that, because of our deeply broken health care system, a health crisis is already an economic crisis for many people in America. As we move deeper into this health crisis, the economic impacts are being felt by more and more people. Millions of people are performing essential work and millions more are people for whom work is essential. Millions are caught up in the catch-22 of wanting to maintain their physical health while at the same time needing to maintain their financial health.
This crisis has revealed an economy that is set up to benefit corporations and the wealthy at the expense and exploitation of millions of low-income and middle-class people for whom decades of free market, trickle-down economic policy has left with increasing cost of living, unlivable wages, limited or no benefits, little job security, and without adequate support from a woefully underfunded safety net to provide essential support in the form of unemployment benefits, food security, affordable health care and housing, debt relief, and overall increased financial security in the event of the loss of a job or income.
This was all true well before the emergence of COVID-19. But the challenges low- and middle-income Americans were facing before are now being compounded by the health and financial challenges caused by COVID-19. And while the health and financial safety of all Americans is now in question, the financial health of many Americans was always in question. In the past few years:
- 80 percent of workers report living paycheck to paycheck.
- 53 percent of U.S. households have no emergency savings.
- Only 58 percent of Americans have a retirement account, the same as 10 years ago.
- Over 50 percent of U.S. households cannot afford a $500 unexpected expense.
- 27 percent of Americans have put off or postponed health care because of cost.
- Almost 25 percent of Americans have past-due medical bills.
- 37 million workers lack access to paid sick leave.
- The average American household owes $29,800 in consumer debt (not including home mortgages).
This pandemic must force us to look at everything in a new way — realizing that we never will, nor should we, return to “normal.” Normal wasn’t working. Indeed, normal wasn’t meant to work for millions of people. This pandemic has already forced all of us to change; now we must find ways to change our country and world to be more equitable and just.