Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, tweeted proclaiming the coronavirus as a great equalizer when his brother tested Covid-19 positive. But the equality ends there. Coronavirus has hit such a society that was already deeply unequal. In country after country, it has magnified and worsened these inequalities, and at the same time, has threatened the global economy.
To fill up just the basic needs seems quite a luxury for many around the world. The World Bank has also forecast that the pandemic will push close to 150 million more people into extreme poverty by 2022.
Any pandemic is a major blow to the global economy. The picture of the last century's epidemic also shows us something like that. Before Covid-19 arrived, the last terrible hit on the global economy was during the Great Depression (2008-2009).
During that period, recovery in employment and labour income was even slower and more painful. It took over a decade for global unemployment to come back to the pre-crisis level, while youth unemployment has never recovered fully from the crisis. Economy and employment became disconnected during that period.
That is why, though labour productivity continued to grow, wages and labour income lagged behind. As a result, inequality to this day remains high or sometimes is even growing. However, Covid-19 is predicted to make inequality even worse. According to the World Bank, 501 million more people will have to survive on less than $5.50 a day in 2030 if governments permit inequality to rise by just two percent annually, and also the total number of people living in poverty would be more than what it had been before the virus.
Education-Gap Widening at an Alarming Rate
Providing qualitative education for all students to eliminate inequality in learning during Covid-19 is also a substantial challenge. In developed countries where children and youth are continuing their studies via online smoothly, we can find the opposite scenario in less developed and developing countries. Here poor children are suffering more than their better-off peers.
For instance, in Nigeria, the richest 20% of households were much more likely to have children engaging in any learning activity after school closures than the rest of the population.
According to a joint report from UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 2.2 billion — or two-thirds of children and young people aged 25 years or below — do not have internet access at home. So, for the students who are facing issues with internet access, receiving qualitative education is like daydreaming. UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore has addressed this issue as a 'Digital Canyon' since several children and young people have no internet at home which is more than a digital gap.
As these effects are not equally distributed across the population, social inequalities become more salient. If the online class continues for long, it will create nothing but a great education gap between advanced economies and middle and low-income nations in the coming future, which will influence the competitiveness of affected countries decades later.
In my locality, I know a girl named Anwara; she used to read in class six. Last month, I saw her in my neighbor's house. She was mopping the floor. "Why are you here?" I asked. "My father used to sell velpuri opposite a school. But he faced a substantial loss in his business because of coronavirus, as his main earning was school-centered. Even though there were a couple of days he didn't earn a single penny. In this situation, carrying my educational expenses is just like slaying the slain. As a result, I was compelled to leave my study and work here," she replied.
I felt pity for her. There are many like her around us. So, it can be concluded that the direct effects of school closures can be compounded by parents keeping their children out of school to cope with the impacts of a severe income shock. This will also increase school dropout tendency among the students.
Low skilled and Blue-collar workers are hit harder
According to the ILO director, coronavirus is not any longer solely a global health crisis, it is also a major labour market and economic crisis that is having a terrible impact on people.
Marufa lives in a slum with her family in Sunamganj. In May she left out for Dhaka with her mother to support her family financially. She wanted to work at a garments factory somehow since at that time BGMEA decided to reopen the garments industry. But unfortunately, she didn't get the job, rather they had to come back with a huge debt burden.
As the economic contraction is hitting distinct groups of workers unevenly, low skilled and blue-collar workers are hit harder than educated workers. Retail and hospitality sectors have also suffered huge losses, whereas the least educated workers have the highest proportional job losses. In contrast, billionaires globally saw their wealth increase by $3.9 trillion between 18 March and 31 December 2020, according to Oxfam's report. Hence, working people will be left to shoulder the immense burden of the Covid-19 recovery until there is no radical change in direction.
Rising Inequality Between Countries
Apart from everything else, the unequal distribution of Covid-19 vaccines and the challenge of vaccine hoarding have continued to grow, which is putting Africa at risk since wealthier countries are making bilateral deals and driving up the prices.
On the other hand, rising inequality isn't just confined within one or two countries, rather it has expanded in many. The Covid-19 crisis has put much of the progress of emerging markets and developing economies at risk, widening the gap between the poor and the rich. It will be very difficult for many to turn around again. Rebounding the economy would be the most challenging task for them.
Inequality Spilling Out in Developed Countries among Ethnic Minorities:
Shamim Rahman shifted to the UK from Bangladesh in 2019. After a couple of months, he bought a car on loan. He was earning a good amount of money by driving. But his happiness didn't last long. Due to coronavirus, the country went under lockdown & thus his life became miserable. He was neither able to earn money nor to repay loans. Now, he is just waiting for the end of lockdown.
In developed countries, ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by Covid-19. Researchers from some reputed universities blamed structural racism as a root cause behind health inequalities among ethnic minorities during the pandemic.
According to the TUC's (Trades Union Congress) analysis of official data, the people of Bangladeshi origin were more likely to die compared to the people of white British ancestry in Covid-19. It also reports that the number of minority workers in the accommodation and food sector has dropped by 23 percent. Between July-September 2020, 8.5% of black, Asian, and other minority workers were unemployed, whereas the rate of unemployment among white workers was only 4.5%.
Vaccination should be started at a large scale as early as possible, otherwise, the lockdown situation will not end and inequality will continue to rise. Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) Index 2020 reports that governments and international organisations should work together to radically and rapidly improve data on inequality and related policies as well as to accurately and frequently monitor progress in reducing inequality. It also reported that governments and international institutions should analyze the distributional impact of any proposed policies and base their choice of policy direction taking into account the impact of those policies on reducing inequality.
We dream of a healthy world along with a sound economy again, but this rising inequality worldwide is a great hindrance to our dream. To heal the wounds of the global economy, there is no alternative to mitigate this uprising inequality.
Nabila Matin Chowdhury is an undergraduate student of Economics at Shahjalal University of Science & Technology, Sylhet. She is also a Senior Executive of Econ Insider, which is an educational research center. She can be reached at- [email protected]
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.