The Pandemic within the Pandemic: The Scourge of Wealth Inequality in the United States 

As lower-income and impoverished communities and populations were forced into even greater impoverishment during extreme socioeconomic circumstances during Covid, the wealthiest experienced historically unparalleled increases in wealth. 
Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

It’s been three years since COVID-19 became an inherent part of our everyday lives. Every human around the world has been a witness to some of the most drastic and unprecedented changes we’ve experienced in humanity. Whether it’s the way we work, the way we go to school, the way we receive healthcare and more, many of the changes we’ve endured thus far are blatantly visible and evidently tangible. But there is one significant change over the course of the pandemic that isn’t immediately discernable to the human eye- the immense transfer of wealth and explosive wealth gap. 

It’s not to say that wealth inequality didn’t exist prior to the pandemic, but the transfer of wealth that has occurred over the course of the last 3 years has widened the pre-existing wealth gap to an astounding, once unparalleled extent. Along with it, have arrived serious implications for, well, basically anyone not ‘rich’.

  • Between 2020 and 2021, the wealth of billionaire’s around the world grew by $4.4 trillion 
  • 120 million people were PUSHED into extreme poverty. Note – this number does not account for those already in poverty prior to the pandemic. 

And for the United States specifically:

  • Both wealth and income inequality in the United States are higher than in any other developed, non-exploited nation in the world.

The 15 richest Americans have accumulated over $400 billion more dollars since March 2020: 

  •  To truly comprehend just how such mass wealth was transferred and accumulated while a majority of Americans experienced life-changing financial hardship, it’s important to look at the state of things before the pandemic. In general, the world’s overwhelming wealth inequality stems from shifting tax policies, systematically ingrained racial and gender discrimination, failure to adapt to globalization, reduced worker bargaining power and more. By this point, it remains common knowledge that socioeconomic and political structures and systems around the world have served for the benefit of the wealthy, and to increase said wealth. 

Amid the initial 2020 surge of mass unemployment, layoffs and job cutbacks, data shows that those whose jobs were most impacted by the pandemic were generally those with low wage employment. Overall, nearly 20 million workers lost their jobs in early 2020. From here, the median household income in the U.S. saw a steady decline. It’s these same households, many of them predominantly black, brown or other minority/marginalized populations, which didn’t have any wealth to begin with. In a statement made to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020, Damon Jones Ph.D., said “Many households lack adequate liquid assets, which I define as cash on hand or assets that can be easily converted into cash. The typical household has less than one month of income saved up for a rainy day, meaning— leaving many in a state of financial precarity.” 

As lower-income and impoverished communities and populations were forced into even greater impoverishment during extreme socioeconomic circumstances, the wealthiest experienced historically unparalleled increases in wealth. 

  • A stunningly strong 2020 stock market is cited as a contributing factor, with early pandemic stocks surpassing even previous highs, according to the Federal Reserves.
  • The Federal Reserve also concludes real estate assets were also responsible for significant increases in wealth, as real estate values also reached unprecedented heights
  • Large corporations were able to fill the void of shuttered/failed small businesses while also taking advantage of COVID related services and products

Although this is an incomplete list of factors contributing to this historical wealth gap, in each instance, it is those with substantial assets and overall aggregate wealth who were able to benefit immensely from the social and economic contexts established by the pandemic. 

As a result, those without assets (many who can be categorized as “lower middle/lower “class) fell victim to an economic pandemic concurrently. 

Three years later, this wealth and inequity gap remains growing and growing. 2022, in particular, has its own unprecedented qualities within the context of the entire pandemic, with unseen levels of inflation amidst nationally and internationally unsettling rent and housing increases and globally stagnant working wages. Non-wealthy Americans continue to take economic hit after the other. For example, the poorest 20% of Americans are currently spending nearly 30% of their income simply on food. 

As a consequence of unfettered wealth accumulation, the World Bank states intergenerational financial mobility may be worsened, resulting in more difficult or less chance of the inequality gap being reduced, if at all. A wealth of suggestions and solutions exist in the public and political sphere, including raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires, adjusting government social safety nets, universal basic income and more. But until these suggestions are converted into viable, tangible realities, inequality in the United States and in our world will outlast COVID, and remain the truly most horrific pandemic of our lifetime. 

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