ALBANY — The coronavirus began, at least in this country体彩app官方网站, as an illness of the relatively wealthy. It takes a certain amount of money, after all, to get on an international flight or a cruise ship.
But as the virus spread, it found its way to the most vulnerable and is now walloping the poor most of all. The crisis has migrated, literally and figuratively, from New Rochelle to the Bronx.
It's not hard to figure out why. For starters, social distancing is more difficult, if not impossible, for the poor. While wealth offers no immunity from the coronavirus, the poor are more exposed, more vulnerable, less sheltered.
“I’ve been describing it as the laundromat divide,” said Chris Arnade, who abandoned a career as a Wall Street trader to become a modern-day Jacob Riis, documenting and photographing what he calls “back row America."
When you have a comfortable house with a washer and dryer in the basement, when you can make your living virtually, when you can stock up on food and have an Internet’s worth of diversions, social distancing is an inconvenience only.
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It’s tougher if you’re crowded with children into a small apartment or if the heat doesn’t work. It’s more difficult if you can’t afford to stockpile food or have to lug the laundry somewhere.
The working poor are cashiers and janitors and caretakers. You can’t do those jobs from 体彩app官方网站. Instead of telecommuting, they travel to work on a crowded bus. They can't Zoom or Skype their way to a paycheck, and that means they're at greater risk.
“The poor are going to suffer the bulk of the illnesses, the bulk of the deaths and the bulk of the economic problems,” said Arnade, whose is a searing portrait of American poverty and desperation. “It’s going to be devastating.”
Grim statistics are proving Arnade’s point. All around the country体彩app官方网站, deaths from COVID-19 are disproportionately happening among minority and poor populations.
In New York City, more than 60 percent of COVID-19 victims have been black or Hispanic. In Chicago, black residents are dying at more than six times the rate of whites.
The problem isn’t just that the poor are more likely to be exposed to the coronavirus. The quality of their care is worse when they do become ill. And they’re more likely to suffer from underlying health issues that turn the virus deadly.
“It always seems that the poorest people pay the highest price,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday. "Why is that?"
The governor knows the answer. We all do. Crises expose strengths and weaknesses, for individuals as well as for societies, and anyone who’s been paying attention knows rising inequality and the devastation of the working class are among America’s bigger weaknesses.
Arnade’s book makes clear that entire segments of the country体彩app官方网站 have been left to rot, ignored by coastal elites and both political parties. The suffering and despondence are as obvious in depopulated towns upstate as in Hunts Point, the Bronx neighborhood where Arnade first began photographing the poor.
As it happens, I talked Wednesday with state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, whose district includes part of the Bronx and who was elected in 2018 as part of the that transformed the Capitol. She beat Jeff Klein, if you care to remember that name.
Biaggi described how the coronavirus is devastating the borough — overwhelming its already stressed health-care system and further impoverishing a county that was already the state's poorest.
“This has put a spotlight on every area that we fail in,” Biaggi said. “The foundation was already cracked, and this is crumbling it.”
It is easy to fear that the pandemic and its effects will make our inequalities worse, that the collapse of the economy, especially, will most directly harm those who can least afford to fall. That’s how it almost always goes.
But it is also possible — maybe not likely, the pessimist in me says, but still possible — that the pandemic could bring profound and positive changes, that the long road back could lead us to address our failings, perhaps make us kinder and less cruel.
Arnade, for one, hopes we will at least reassess how we value work.
“The jobs that keep things running should be seen as more valuable and essential,” the New Paltz resident said, mentioning firefighters, cops, janitors and food workers. “They’re the ones putting themselves at risk to keep the country体彩app官方网站 afloat right now.”
Maybe seeing how dependent we are on those workers will convince us to address the long slide of the working class, strengthening the country体彩app官方网站 from the bottom up. Maybe we'll acknowledge that the structure of our economy leaves too many people on the sidelines. Maybe we'll be better for this.
A pandemic takes the blinders off. It's an excuse to see, finally, that everyone needs sick leave, and that a health care system of surprise bills and forced bankruptcies is immoral. It's a reason to see the cracks and weaknesses we've chosen to ignore.
Biaggi put it this way: “If this does not teach us a lesson about what is wrong and what we need to do, I swear to you, I don’t know if anything will.”
cchurchill@体彩app官方网站 ■ 518-454-5442 ■ @体彩app官方网站chris_churchill