A moral imperative: Race, poverty and coronavirus

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How does anyone in good conscience separate race from poverty? You can’t. It is intricately linked. There is a tendency to not connect the dots.

The coronavirus is ripping mercilessly throughout the world and causing death and destruction. In the United States over 500,000 people have been infected. Sadly, over 24,000 have died. New York City has been hit the hardest with over 10,000 deaths. 

Across the United States the mortality rates for African Americans shine the brightest light yet on the deep divide in our country. While there are multiple conversations about the fact that African Americans are dying at disproportionate rates from the virus, I think that we ought to take a deeper look at the causative factors. 

It is past time for America to look in the mirror at centuries of systematic oppression of Black and African American people in this country. I find it deeply troubling that even the President of the United States of America and others in the upper echelon of society are asking why. How do they not know that disparities exist? Sad.

African Americans aren’t dying just because of their race. African Americans are dying because of their zip codes, and where they live. African Americans are dying in devastatingly large numbers because of inequality, centuries of health disparities, structural poverty and racism. 

The General Assembly in Rhode Island must take stock and take action immediately. While it is easy to glance through the racial framework for answers to this pandemic; it is worthwhile to look at the mechanisms which enable this disparity to thrive. 

How does anyone in good conscience separate race from poverty? You can’t. It is intricately linked. There is a tendency to not connect the dots. It is my hope that this pandemic becomes our compass to passing thoughtful and intentional, and might I add, compassionate laws that would change the trajectory of black and brown people’s lives. It is a moral imperative.

The lack of adequate sick time, maternity leave, access to doulas, exposure to pollution, low paying jobs, food insecurity, injustice in the penal system, lack of access to internet, poor performing schools and gun violence puts African American and Latinos at much greater risk for poor outcomes. These, and other causative factors put our most vulnerable neighbors at greater risk to the coronavirus which inevitably leads to higher mortality rates. 

Passing a $15 Living Wage should not be controversial, sadly it is. Passing a $15 Living Wage puts us on a path to leveling the wage playing field, reducing mortality and morbidity rates and improving the overall outcomes of all Rhode Islanders. Data gleaned from the Economic Institute makes it clear that increasing the minimum wage helps reverse wage disparities for workers of color – nearly half of all Black and Latino workers would benefit from an increase according to the Economic Progress Institute (EPI). 

In a recent report, the EPI rightfully suggests that “Minimum wage earners are not able to meet their basic needs.” It continued by stating, “While an increase of $1.00 is an important step, we urge the General Assembly to put us on a path to $15. We know that families need much more than $15 an hour to meet their basic needs.” The same report suggests that a parent with two young children needs to earn at least $30/hour...