It’s a no-brainer that the pandemic has turned regular life upside down for everyone. Many are working from home, students are attending school online, restaurants are open only for takeout, and the streets are eerily quiet as everyone has been sheltering in place. But recently I had to ask myself, “How has the pandemic affected me?” Sure, all my schoolwork has been on the computer, I can’t see my friends, and I only leave my house to go to the store or for the occasional walk, but fundamentally, nothing has really changed for me. My family has been lucky enough to be a part of the small percentage of Americans who can safely work from home while still earning the same income. I still have a roof over my head, food on my plate at every meal, and a warm bed to sleep in at night. Unfortunately, many Americans have not had the same pandemic experience as me.
According to the Pew Research Center, as of late March, 29 percent of white Americans said someone in their household had lost their job or work-related income because of the pandemic. However, 36 percent of black Americans and 49 percent of Hispanic Americans said the same. In addition, results taken from a survey conducted by the University of Chicago showed that low-income households were the most concerned about jobs, income stability, and health care coverage. One key finding from the household impact survey states that "More than half of low-income respondents reported being worried about losing their job, compared to less than 20% of higher-income Americans.” These alarming statistics have made one thing clear: the pandemic is disproportionately affecting racial minorities and low-income individuals and families.
In the upcoming months, and maybe even years, there will really be two pandemics in America. The first will seem frightening to its victims, but thanks to their existing advantages and privileges, they will likely emerge from it physically, mentally, and financially stable. But the other pandemic will devastate those who have endured it, leaving lasting scars and changing life as they know it. Which of these two pandemics any given American will experience will be determined by a mix of race and class—influenced strongly by inequality—and random chance.
As the pandemic has furthered the already existing disparities in America, it’s important to take the time to reflect on one’s own pandemic experience. If you find that your experience is likely to be similar to the first pandemic listed, like me, maybe the more important question to ask yourself is not how the pandemic affected you, but how you can use your privileges to help those who are in need.