The Equality Issue – All in It Together? Yes and No
Bloomberg Businessweek|March 15, 2021
The pandemic has highlighted structural inequalities that have plagued society for decades
By Peter Coy

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. This magazine published a cover-to-cover special issue that week—our last in the office—called “The Lost Year.” At the time, though, fear of the disease was leavened with hope that it might bring people together. In one of his eagerly watched press conferences, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called Covid a “great equalizer.” So did Madonna, who released a video of herself mostly immersed in a rose-petal-strewn bathtub saying, “We’re all in the same boat, and if the ship goes down we’re all going down together.”

The ship went down, all right, but we didn’t all go down together. Covid amplified inequality—by race as well as income, gender, occupation, and nationality. For many, the lost year threatens to become a lost decade akin to America’s doldrums after the deep recession of 2007-09 or Japan’s long slump after its asset bubble popped in 1991.

The cumulative future damage is likely to be even greater than the havoc Covid wrought in its first, acute year. Doctors coined the term “long hauler” to describe patients with lingering health problems; society itself will be a long hauler. And the least-advantaged will suffer the most in damaged health, derailed schooling, and wrecked careers.

On the plus side, Covid has stimulated fresh thinking about ways to protect the most vulnerable. The Philippines used its universal health insurance, which was enacted in 2019, to cover testing for and treatment of Covid for everyone, including the 40% of Filipinos working in the informal sector. Rwanda, fearing the virus’s impact on its poorest citizens, used robots to take temperatures and drones to deliver medicines. In the U.S., President Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief program expands tax credits for low-income Americans with children, bolsters unemployment insurance, pays out $1,400 checks, and expands rental assistance and food stamps.

The pandemic made long-present inequalities impossible to ignore. “A lot has gotten worse, but there’s one thing that’s gotten better, and that’s the opportunity for this nation and indeed the world to address equality seriously,” says Dayna Bowen Matthew, dean of George Washington University Law School and author of Just Medicine: A Cure for Racial Inequality in American Health Care. “It’s almost a reprieve, a mulligan, a do-over,” she says. “As a society we want to be better than this, and we have concrete evidence, reasons why and how to be better than this.”

Thirty-six Americans had died of Covid in the week that Bloomberg Businessweek published “The Lost Year” cover. The death toll is now over half a million in the U.S. and more than 2.5 million worldwide. So it really was a lost year. But for the lucky ones, the loss was felt at a distance—sad stories on the news, forced separation from friends and family. For many there were offsetting advantages, such as working from home for full pay while the rising stock market fattened their retirement accounts. Federal relief dollars benefited a lot of people who didn’t need the money.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEKView All

PANDEMIC VACATION

The RV business is booming and shows no sign of slowing down. To find out why, our correspondent dragged his reluctant family to the RV capital of the world— the cutest city in north central Indiana!—and hit the road

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 10, 2021

The Fortnite Fallout

Apple and Epic meet in court, making the collapse of a once-close relationship complete

3 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 10, 2021

Yes, Streaming Ads Are on Repeat

Commercials on services like Hulu, Pluto, and Discovery+ have become an $11 billion business

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 10, 2021

Laggard Doesn't (Always) Mean Loser

At least a few companies still in the vaccine race will likely succeed as Covid lingers

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 10, 2021

Why Don't More Women Run Money?

The gender imbalance in portfolio management persists even as some women take top fund jobs

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 10, 2021

COME AT ME

When a gossip rag went after Jeff Bezos, he retaliated with the brutal, brilliant efficiency he used to build his business empire. From the new book Amazon Unbound , an untold story of money, sex, and power

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 10, 2021

More Merchants Are Courting Cash

Surcharges for credit card purchases become common as businesses try to avoid swipe fees

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 10, 2021

Covid Means There's Even Less Joy in Mudville

Capacity constraints and distancing rules bring big headaches for season ticket holders

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 10, 2021

Bad Trip

Justin Zhu was fired for taking LSD before an important meeting. The whole situation was even weirder

8 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 10, 2021

Facebook Won't Apologize for Instagram Youth

It’s making a kid-focused version of its photo-sharing app, regardless of what critics say

3 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 10, 2021
RELATED STORIES

Richard Carranza's Last Stand

Mayor de Blasio hired an ''equity warrior'' as schools chancellor. How parental politics-and the pandemic-left him defeated

10+ mins read
New York magazine
April 12-25, 2021

Private Schools Are Indefensible

The Gulf between how rich kids and poor kids are educated in America is obscene.

10+ mins read
The Atlantic
April 2021

We Mourn For All We Do Not Know

The Federal Writers’ Project slave narratives provide a window into our heritage—to stories of suffering but also of love, joy, wonder, and survival. They’re an all-too-rare link to ordinary black lives gone by.

10+ mins read
The Atlantic
March 2021

The Racist Next Time

Trump rode bigotry to the White House. The next Trump could too.

5 mins read
Mother Jones
January/February 2021

Living With Karens

A white woman calls the polıce on her Black neıghbors. Sıx months later, they stıll share a property lıne.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
December 21, 2020-January 3, 2021

An Anti-racist Education for Middle Schoolers

K-12 STUDENTS IN large public school districts across the country spent much of the fall semester at home, a less-than-ideal result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Zoom learning was hardly the only significant change to the education system. Some school districts are embracing trendy but dubious ideas about how to fight racism in the classroom.

6 mins read
Reason magazine
January 2021

Whitewashing the Great Depression

How the preeminent photographic record of the period eclipsed people of color and shaped the nation’s self-image

10+ mins read
The Atlantic
December 2020

Cop Out

How Black Oaklanders finally expelled the school police

10+ mins read
Mother Jones
November/December 2020

Love Thy Neighbor

Nextdoor the social network for local communities, has bet on kindness to power it to an IPO. If only the locals don't ruin it.

10+ mins read
Fast Company
October - November 2020

Beyond Woke Capitalism

What it’ll take to get companies to the promised land of an equitable relationship with both workers and society

8 mins read
Fast Company
October - November 2020