The gap between the haves and have-nots is growing | Opinion

Posted Apr 23, 2020

By Kasturi Rumu DasGupta

A seemingly simple edict to stay home has opened up an enormous divide in society. More than anything It has made visible the inherent injustices and inequities of our society, Kasturi Rumu DasGupta says.


Nothing in living memory even comes remotely close to what humanity is experiencing these days. Nothing we say or write will be able to capture the real magnitude of what we are facing today. In the space of just weeks, the virus has completely upended our world. For some more than others.

We are at a loss to truly gauge the enormity of the mind-numbing numbers of the infected and the dead; to make sense of this unreal reality. Entire societies have been asked to stay home. With the risk of infection and death looming over everyone, compounded by so little that is known about the nature of the virus, people have mostly abided.

But this seemingly simple edict to stay home has opened up an enormous divide in society. More than anything It has made visible the inherent injustices and inequities of our society.

For one segment of society staying home has allowed for more quality family times, and leisure - the main challenge has been to devise ways to engage children without losing one’s mind. But for the 22 million who have lost their livelihoods, and those who were poor and in the margins before this catastrophe hit, lives are teetering on the brink of disaster.

For those on the margin, there is no money for food and essentials. The employer-covered health care, for those lucky enough to have had it, is now gone. These are the individuals who are dying from the virus in disproportionate numbers. African Americans, Latinos, and poor whites and those with underlying health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, which often are direct consequences of poverty and a lack of access to even basic health care.

These are very likely the same folks who lost their jobs when globalization outsourced their jobs to someplace else, and are now being felled by the first pandemic caused as borders have been made porous by the same forces. In the ranks of winners and losers of corporate globalization, they have come out on the losing end, again. They are those who have always been dispensable.

Adding to their misery, the last federal budget of $4.8 trillion from February 2020 included savage cuts worth hundreds of billions in combined cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and other critical safety net programs that are essential to keep the poor somewhat afloat.

Given this mentality, where all money flows upstream to the rich few, are we surprised that in this wealthiest of countries, health care workers don’t have personal protective equipment and have to make do with re-purposed plastic garbage bags and reuse masks that have lost their ability to protect? Or that ventilators, critical for saving lives, are in such short supply?

Then there are the essential workers themselves who have kept our lives moving even in the middle of this pandemic. Health care workers, grocery store workers, warehouse and delivery workers, whose paychecks have always been woefully inadequate, and barely cover their own family’s needs, are in the front lines of this war. Whatever normalcy remains, we owe to them.

It is widely believed that the world after the pandemic will be very different. Can we hope that just as it took the Great Depression to birth the modern welfare state, maybe the great pandemic will demonstrate the need to fortify it with universal health care, paid sick leave, a minimum income guarantee, child allowances, etc.? Even though catastrophic moments such as these show the critical value of these programs, the inherent uncertainties of capitalist economies further confirms the indispensability of these programs even in “normal” times.

Most industrialized countries around the world have already figured this out. Bernie Sanders ran on this platform. He and progressives have always known that a civilized society is one that gives people, unconditionally, what they absolutely need to survive and thrive. In times of pandemics and otherwise.


Kasturi Rumu DasGupta is a Professor Emerita of Sociology at Georgian Court University in Lakewood.

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