Social Scientists Say Pandemic Worsening Existing Social Inequalities

Nov 24, 2020

As the pandemic rages on, public trust in institutions is down and disparities across society are up. A panel of U.C. Riverside and U.C. Merced social scientists met virtually on November 19 to dig into why.

During the two-hour panel they shared the ways COVID-19 is worsening existing inequalities across sectors like health, education and the work force. Several panelists pointed to the question of who has the power in policy decision-making and if they are asking the right questions.

“Many times, we are sort of interested in what is the impact of the policy on the overall population, but that’s often an incomplete answer," said panel moderator and U.C.R. Dean of Public Policy Dr. Anil Deolalikar during a follow-up interview. "We need to know how they are going to impact different socioeconomic groups as well.”

This is seen in how well-intentioned programs to give laptops away for distanced learning does not address the problems faced by low income children whose parents cannot work from home to offer them assistance.

The picture is further complicated as economic status intersects with race and LGBTQ identities. For example, how structural racism has kept Black and Brown people in low wage essential industries, with poor access to healthcare, including long wait times for COVID tests. Years of unfair labor practices in the agriculture and meatpacking industries, mean these, often immigrant, workers have no safety nets when they become ill. And how easily the pandemic shutdown halted critical services to the LGBTQ community, like HIV testing and emergency youth housing.

“So, in a sense, you could argue that COVID has highlighted how important these social inequalities are and how they can almost be fatal during times of stress such as the time we are facing now,” said Deolalikar.

The group echoed calls for more demographic data on COVID-19 infections, another round of federal stimulus targeted at education and public health, and most of all, for the people to trust in science.