A pandemic is another terrible time to be poor

Pearl River     There’s no good time to be poor in America.  Not surprisingly, a pandemic bringing rampant disease and deaths in droves is a spectacularly bad time to be poor.  Some are even noticing the poor now, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that a whole lot is being done about it.

For example, it turns out that lower-waged and other blue and pink-collar workers have to work, regardless of the peril to themselves and the community.  Home health care workers, construction workers, tradespeople, grocery stockers, delivery workers, and hundreds of others are essential, grateful for the paychecks in these times, but unprotected and at risk.  The Times using cellphone data found that lower income workers delayed by three days on average being able to follow stay-at-home orders around the country.  In what has to be the understatement of the day, the reporter wrote, “The impact of the virus is thought to also be higher in lower income neighborhoods.”  Roger that, Captain Government Oblivious!

The reports on unemployed data are stark, but give only a peek at the disaster.  Almost 10 million have applied in March, and that doesn’t count the millions that are still trying as state unemployment websites crash repeatedly.  It will get worse: “Forecasting firm Oxford Economics projects that by May, the U.S. will have lost 27.9 million jobs and have a 16% unemployment rate, erasing all the jobs gained since 2010 during the record-setting 113-month stretch of employment gains through February. That job loss would be more than double the 8.7 million positions cut from payrolls during the 2007-2009 recession and its aftermath. And those jobs were lost over 25 months.”

People are going to go hungry unless there is fast action.  Washington Post columnist, Catherine Rampell, surveyed a number of food banks to report, “In surveys of food banks conducted from March 19 to 23 by Feeding America, the nation’s largest organization for domestic hunger relief, 92 percent reported increases in demand for food assistance. The size of the increase varies by location, with some reporting doubling or even septupling their usual distributions.”

The homeless, always with us, in the pandemic are seen as street-side hotspots like nursing homes that could flare up and take down whole communities, prompting action.  Finally.  The stimulus bill is the biggest federal and state expenditure for the homeless in history.  Cities are trying to rapidly move them off the streets into some kind of stay-at-home situation.  Nonetheless experts estimate that close to 5% or more than 3500 nationally will die.

But, wait, the stimulus bill will do the trick.  Well, hmmm.  Turns out for very low-income people who haven’t had to file tax returns, they will have a problem.  Automatic payments are guaranteed only to those whose information is already in the computers at the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration. Everyone else must follow instructions posted by the I.R.S., which says many low-income people and others who aren’t usually required to file tax returns will need to do so if they want their payments.  Goodness knows, we can’t give the poor a break.

This is now when we’re still chasing our tail to catch up with our heads.  Who doesn’t believe for lower income and working families that it isn’t going to get way worse before we have a hint at anything getting better?Wade Rathke is founder and chief organizer of ACORN and ACORN International. You can find Wade’s recent past posts here Chief Organizer Reports. And you can link to his website here Chief Organizer ACORN/ACORN International

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