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EDITORIAL: Coronavirus harms marginalized communities more

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. – Photo by null

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to spread throughout the country, and all of us has felt its impact. 

From college students being forced off campus, to elderly and immunocompromised people dealing with the anxiety-inducing spectre of the disease, coronavirus has made its imprint on the national psyche.

But not all of us are feeling the brunt in equal measure. In this article, we will examine how class and race play into the coronavirus pandemic.

To no surprise, but to our concern, marginalized people around America — namely, people of color — are more vulnerable to both the pandemic itself and the externalities arising from our attempts to fight it.

Take coronavirus itself. The infection is most dangerous to those who have underlying health problems, especially lung issues.

“Put aside age: Underlying health plays a big role. In China, 40 (percent) of people who required critical care had other chronic health problems. And there, deaths were highest among people who had heart disease, diabetes or chronic lung diseases before they got COVID-19,” according to ABC News.

Minority communities experience a heightened exposure to air pollution, which causes lung damage and contributes to premature death. Those inequities will only prove further disasters for communities of color amid this pandemic.

The aforementioned disadvantages are caused by years of institutional racism.

“First, (minority) groups may face greater exposure to pollution (due to) factors ranging from racism to class bias to housing market dynamics and land costs. For example, pollution sources may be located near disadvantaged communities, increasing exposure to harmful pollutants,” according to the American Lung Association.

Communities of color also have less access to quality healthcare, as well as healthcare in general. This disparity is also caused by institutional racism. Due to generations of discrimination, communities of color are often in worse socioeconomic standing than white communities, and as a result, cannot afford quality — or any — health insurance. This leads to worse health outcomes, another issue that coronavirus exasperates.

“ … institutionalized white socioeconomic resources, discrimination and racialized framing from centuries of slavery, segregation and contemporary white oppression severely limit and restrict access of many Americans of color to adequate socioeconomic resources-and to adequate health care and health outcomes,” said sociologist Joe Feagin.

The coronavirus itself clearly impacts minority communities in a harsher manner. But, unfortunately, the procedures that society and the government have enacted to fight the crisis also put an undue burden on minority communities.

The economic downturn widely projected to occur due to combatting coronavirus will impact jobs that do not require a college degree the most. Due to entrenched racism, minority communities tend to comprise much of those jobs.

“Some people will be able to work from home for now, but the low-income minorities who benefited most from our decadelong economic expansion aren’t likely to fall into that category. Many of them lack a college degree, which correlates strongly with employment prospects,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

It is clear that the marginalized in America have been put into a massive pinch due to this crisis. They are more vulnerable to the health aspect of coronavirus, but they are also more likely to fall victim to the economic byproducts of our fight against it. 

It is upsetting that our society has been built in such a way so that this is possible, but unfortunately, undoing centuries of systemic racism is not possible within the next few months, years or even decades. It is up for the government, as well as other institutions of power, to do what they can to ease these burdens right now. Once that is done, we must deal with upending these racist institutions to make sure this does not happen again.

Congress (and state and local governments) must do more to protect the worker. Rather than bailing out large corporations, stimulus money should go directly to those who are losing their livelihoods due to this pandemic. They must also incentivize corporations to retain their low-level workers. These conglomerates are getting our taxpayer dollars, and in return, they must be willing to protect the public interest.

The New Brunswick community is an example of these issues. Much of New Brunswick is impoverished and has a diverse community. It is also a city with large amounts of cars coming in and out of it every day, which equates to high amounts of air pollution, low amounts of healthcare and far too much suffering due to inequality.

Rutgers, as a beneficiary of taxpayer dollars, as well as a beneficiary of the city of New Brunswick itself, has a public responsibility to help as well. When school comes back, Rutgers should focus on hiring impoverished New Brunswick citizens for its work and provide them full health benefits.

It is unfortunate that things have gotten to this point, but perhaps a pandemic is exactly what we needed to make the injustice in our society abundantly clear — and to incite a fight against it. 

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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