This article titled “The Unequal Cost of Social Distancing” was published March 30, 2020, under the auspices of the Johns Hopkins Coronovirus Research Center, and makes some cogent points about the costs of social distancing, which fall unequally hard on the poor.
The authors are: Stefanie DeLuca, James Coleman Professor of Sociology & Social Policy
Nick Papageorge, Broadus Mitchell Associate Professor of Economics
Emma Kalish, Ph.D. student in Economics
Social distancing will save lives.(i) Its economic costs are staggering. While frustrating but manageable for many people(ii), the economic fallout of social distancing is brutal for the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalized members of our society. Even looking at the issue purely in terms of lives lost, injuries sustained, and lifelong psychological damage, there are tradeoffs that we feel have not been sufficiently acknowledged.
Unemployment will lead to increases in suicide, substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, and food insecurity.
Thus, a grim tradeoff is already being made between saving different lives: saving the lives of those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 versus saving the lives of those who are most vulnerable to suicide, substance abuse, and domestic violence. Moreover, these vulnerabilities mean social distancing may be unsustainable for large swaths of the poorest Americans. As decision-makers contemplate medium-term economic versus public health trade-offs, they must do so with an acknowledgment of the severely skewed nature of the costs of distancing.
In short, the virus is lethal; but so is poverty.
Given the uneven burden, a concern is that long-term quarantine or social distancing measures are unsustainable, in part because the costs borne by disadvantaged segments of the population are too brutal.
Right now, we must recognize that we cannot expect the most marginalized among us to bear the greatest costs of social distancing for weeks or months on end. If we devise policy based on the assumption that families who cannot put food on the table will stay home indefinitely, we are fooling ourselves.
It is important to understand how people at low risk of harm from COVID-19, but high risk of harm from social distancing, weigh these tradeoffs in this uncertain situation.