COVID-19 exposes digital, economic and racial divides

Unemployment claims have risen sharply throughout recent weeks. Photo courtesy Getty Images

Spring Break 2020 in Miami will most likely be remembered as one of the most reckless displays of insubordination by the nation’s youth, yet it also sparked an even larger divide between the country’s younger and older generations.

With hashtags such as “#BoomerRemover” and “#CoronaParty,” older and younger generations began taking shots at one another about their perceived habits and histories during a pandemic.

The divide in age is not the only one to be seen. The country’s digital and economic divides are tied to each other with the millions of Americans who have been directed to work from home. This luxury of maintaining a steady income throughout the COVID-19 outbreak cannot be achieved by the millions of Americans who do not have access to the Internet and other facilities at home.

Broadband Now, a company which helps people find Internet service providers, reported in February that as many as 42 million Americans do not have internet. Of those that do have internet access, M-Lab, a project that monitors global internet performance, found that most people in 29.4 percent of counties do not have the government-required upload speed; this means that their internet access is most likely not sufficient to use programs such as Zoom and Skype.

A lack of resources, especially internet access, makes is incredibly difficult or impossible for those that have been ordered to work from home to do so. This has undoubtedly affected the country’s unemployment rate, which topped six million claims in the week ending April4, according to the US Department of Labor.

The divide also affects children, as the move to online teaching would be out of reach for those that do not have internet access outside of school.

“Now that people’s livelihoods, schools and lives are literally on the line, we can’t survive,” Sasha Meinrath, co-founder of M-Lab, said. “These communities that are underserved are not going to be able to transition to an online workplace or school environment.”

Blue collar workers who often do not have the option to work from the comfort of their homes are forced to continue working in high-risk jobs such as public transportation, grocery stores, and sanitation. According to the Miami Herald, four Publix employees have tested positive for COVID-19 as of March6, with one identified at a Publix in Northeast Tallahassee.

At least 30 grocery store workers have died from COVID-19 complications, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union reported on April13.

Meanwhile, celebrities have started hashtags such as “#FlattenTheCurve,” which promotes social distancing and “TogetherAtHome,” which promotes interaction through social media to stay connected during quarantine. Despite being noble causes, many have described hashtags, posts, and comments made by celebrities about the COVID-19 outbreak as being tone-deaf. Celebrities, unlike a majority of the population, have the ability to maintain their luxurious lifestyles in their multimillion-dollar mansions without the stresses faced by those financially and economically unable to participate in social distancing or those working in hospitals overrun by COVID-19 sufferers.

Ellen DeGeneres, one of the most notable celebrities in Hollywood, faced backlash when she compared self-quarantining to being in jail.

“One thing that I’ve learned from being in quarantine is that people — this is like being in jail, is what it is,” DeGeneres said. “It’s mostly because I’ve been wearing the same clothes for 10 days and everyone in here is gay.”

Social media users were quick to negate the talk show host’s claims regarding her circumstances.

“Hey @TheEllenShow, prisoners across this country are trapped in 24-hour quarantine in cells that are probably about the size of one of your showers & others are sleeping 3 feet away from sick inmates. And they’re dying. You aren’t experiencing anything close to prison,” wrote Caleb Grossman from Omaha, Nebraska.

As of April 15, 40 inmates in Florida correctional facilities have tested positive for the coronavirus; two additional inmates have died. Florida rapper YNW Melly has tested positive for the coronavirus and has been repeatedly denied release despite reporting severe symptoms and sharing a cell with another sick inmate. Alternatively, Tekashi 6ix9ine, a Hispanic Bronx rapper, has been released early from prison due to fears of contracting COVID-19.

African Americans, who disproportionately populate most of the nation’s jails, have also been heavily affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The racial divide is bound to become even more strained as African Americans are more likely to die from the illness than white Americans due to ailments such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma that are prevalent in the community.

Communities with cramped housing make it difficult to social distance. Essential jobs required to continue working such as those in education and retail account for 30 percent and 10 percent, respectively, of the African American workforce.

African Americans are also less likely to have access to proper medical care due to lack of medical insurance and a general lack of financial ability to do so. Racial biases in medical facilities have also been recorded by researchers for ScienceNews, who reported in October 2019 that “an algorithm used to determine which patients should receive access to certain health care programs inadvertently prioritized white patients over African-American patients.”

The virus has also affected African Americans socially. Notably, a video circulating on social media shows a notice issued by a McDonalds in Guangzhou, China that stated the business had “been informed that from now on black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant.” There have also been reports of Africans being evicted from their homes in Guangzhou due to a concern over imported COVID-19 cases.

In America, the persistent racial gap has also affected the Asian American community, which has seen an increase in reported hate crimes due to their perceived fault in the spread of COVID-19. Racial-based rhetoric and language used by President Trump in press conferences, especially his referral to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus,” may have greatly influenced the American population. The blatant racial undertone of many of President Trump’s references to the coronavirus may have emboldened non-Asian Americans to share and display anti-Asian sentiments.

Nearly a third of the world population is under some law-enforced restriction to limit the spread of the coronavirus. New York and California, two of the country’s and the world’s largest economies, have enforced stringent measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. Millions of people are facing an abrupt change in routine, which has caused an exposure to class, economic, financial, digital, and racial differences in the country.

These divides have contributed to the high unemployment rate, high risk of infection for essential workers and African Americans, and racial tensions towards African and Asian Americans. COVID-19 has laid bare the many deficiencies in the America socioeconomic structure, with little assistance and some hindrance from the federal government.