Indiana University, Ohio State University and University of Georgia
There is emerging evidence that many disadvantaged communities in the United States are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Native American communities share some of the characteristics of other disadvantaged communities that might make them susceptible to greater impacts, but they also face unique challenges.
Small population race and ethnic groups must be identified and counted during public health epidemics. A better understanding of how the pandemic is playing out in these communities might help provide better-targeted, context-specific policies. There is emerging evidence that the lack of complete plumbing facilities is related to disproportionately high COVID-19 cases on American Indian reservations. This may necessitate the provision of water supplies in the future if and when additional waves of infection start again. Effective communication of public health warnings and directives may need to be translated into more languages than simply English.
The U.S. government has responded to the severe economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus crisis with several major relief packages at an estimated cost over $2.9 trillion so far. Some political leaders are now questioning further government spending, pointing to sizable long-term fiscal shortfalls.
Despite concerns about the long-term fiscal outlook, the government needs to continue to provide support to help distressed sectors survive this crisis. Responding too strongly to the present crisis carries small risks and relatively low costs compared with a response that falls short. The recovery from the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the important financial lifeline that fiscal policy can play, would be derailed by fiscal stringency; but ultimately the economic damage cannot be repaired until the underlying disease is under some measure of control. Like a course of antibiotics, an economic relief package is most efficacious when administered to completion.
For the past several decades, our safety net has primarily been aimed at promoting and rewarding work and has provided relatively little assistance for low-income families that are not employed. This means that some of the key programs in the social safety net are not structured to provide poverty relief during times when unemployment is rising rapidly and increasing hardship for families.
Many Americans are now facing extensive economic hardship and finding ways to mitigate this problem is a policy imperative. Lower-income families who are already struggling are particularly in peril due to widely documented shortcomings of the safety net during recessions; a spike in food insecurity highlights the concern. Even though in the past unemployment insurance has not been a commonly used resource for the SNAP population, its use should be promoted now. Given the dramatic increase in hardship, the extent to which SNAP and unemployment insurance together will be able to shelter families from economic distress remains an open question. Moreover, despite the increase in eligibility for unemployment benefits among the SNAP population, at least half of SNAP recipients are still unlikely to receive any assistance from unemployment insurance.
In 2018, individuals in the United States gave $292 billion to charities – approximately 1.4% of GDP. Households earning over $2 million (0.1% of the population) gave about 30% of the total household contributions in 2016. Yet the well-off have been characterized as being less generous and uncompassionate, though there is little systematic or reliable evidence to support this. The importance of charitable services is especially acute during the coronavirus crisis when need grows in the face of an overstretched government.
When it comes to monetary donations during their lives, we find that the rich are at least as generous, if not more so, than the poor. It is clearly important to take household wealth into account when analyzing donative behavior because households donate out of existing income and wealth. According to trends observed from 2000 to 2016, the popular conception that richer people give a smaller proportion of their income is wrong. Prior evidence to this point is likely driven by outliers, insufficient data across the income distribution, or estimation techniques that muddle interpretation.
The “Great Lockdown” arising from the COVID-19 pandemic has not been universal – essential workers, who are vital for the core functions of the economy and the society, are still on the job. But not all essential workers face the same level of risk of infection. Some of these workers are “frontline” and must provide their labor in person while others can work from home.
Essential workers have been called on to meet our basic needs during the COVID-19 shutdown. The provision of hazard pay to these workers may be merited both because of the risks they are taking by remaining on their jobs as well on equity grounds. Hazard pay could also help recruit workers into these jobs at a time when they are especially vital. This is especially the case given the generosity of the unemployment insurance benefit increase under the CARES Act which may leave some low-wage workers doing better collecting unemployment benefits than continuing their frontline employment. Other benefits should also be considered including support for the childcare needs of these workers, paid sick leave (where not otherwise mandated under the CARES Act), coverage of COVID-19 health expenses for those who lack health insurance, and death benefits to the families of those who have died of the virus.