A new study by researchers at the University of Chicago found that the economic fallout of the pandemic is disproportionately harming low-income workers, many of whom were already struggling in pre-pandemic times.
The COVID-19 crisis is dramatically amplifying income inequality in America
About 57% of women making less than $30,000 lost income during the first month of crisis, according to an ongoing survey of over 1,400 American households across the country.
Among both men and women in a higher income bracket, who earned more than $45,000 a year, fewer than 30% reported losing income in April.
The researchers at the University of Chicago, led by Marianne Bertrand, professor of economics, partnered with the AmeriSpeak Panel to conduct six surveys meant to poll Americans about how their lives have changed during the pandemic.
The new findings presented this week analyzed reactions from the first poll, which was conducted from April 6 to 11.
By and large, most respondents supported state and national physical distancing measures, with the notable exception of lower-income Republicans, who tended to express an unwillingness to comply.
About 20% of Americans believe that the media is exaggerating the gravity of the pandemic — these respondents are also more likely to get their COVID-19-related news from President Trump’s White House briefings. About 51% of respondents believe that the media is representing the situation accurately, while 21% believe that journalists are underreporting the gravity of the crisis.
However, the main conclusion of the survey is that the coronavirus crisis is impacting Americans unequally, based on their income, gender, and race.
The most vulnerable group seems to be lower-income American women, who were the most likely to experience a drop in their income.
About 42% of non-white workers who earn $45,000-$75,000 per year said they lost income during the crisis. Just 26% of white respondents in this income bracket reported the same.
Half of the low-income respondents said they feared they would lose their jobs, compared to less than 20% of higher-income Americans.
“The new research underscores the importance of policies that do more to relieve the impact of COVID-19 on lower-income households, who are being disproportionately affected,” said Bertrand. “Our data support that this crisis is anything but ‘a great equalizer.”
“These early results will inform policymakers as they weigh new or expanded support programs in response to COVID-19,” said Carmelo Barbaro, executive director of the UChicago Poverty Lab. “Because this is a longitudinal survey, we’ll be able to track these results over time and measure how household attitudes and outlooks are changing as the pandemic and relief efforts unfold.”