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Data also indicate that more equal societies are better able to handle the pandemic. (Photo: Kena Betancu/AFP via Getty Images)

Data also indicate that more equal societies are better able to handle the pandemic. (Photo: Kena Betancu/AFP via Getty Images)

Inequality and Covid-19 in 13 Charts

A new data visualization series illustrates how the pandemic and flawed policy responses have widened long-standing economic, racial, and gender divides.

Sarah AndersonBrian Wakamo


The United States has just surpassed 200,000 Covid-19 deaths — about the number who perished in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and more than the American lives lost in the Vietnam War, 9/11, and Word War I combined.

As many grieved this grim milestone, President Trump told a campaign rally crowd that the disease affects “virtually nobody.”

In Trump’s elite social bubble, it could be the case that “virtually nobody” has succumbed to the disease. As we show in a new series of 13 charts on “Inequality and Covid-19,” many of Trump’s fellow billionaires have seen their fortunes actually expand under the pandemic.

But the hard data we’ve gathered show undeniable catastrophic health and economic impacts on ordinary Americans, particularly in marginalized communities. While some predicted early on that the pandemic would be a “great equalizer,” it has instead exacerbated long-standing class, racial, and gender divides.

The chart below, based on Institute for Policy Studies analysis of Forbes data, shows that while the total wealth of the more than 600 U.S. billionaires has grown significantly under Covid, the fortunes of the richest five have grown even faster. Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, and Elon Musk saw a 59 percent increase in their combined wealth between March 18 and September 10, from $358 billion to $569 billion.

Meanwhile, the pandemic recession has hit the poorest workers hardest. According to University of Chicago researchers, the lowest-income workers were the most likely to lose their jobs between February 1, 2020 and the end of June, while the highest-income workers had the lowest job loss rate during this period.

Data also indicate that more equal societies are better able to handle the pandemic. Relatively egalitarian Italy, Sweden, Belgium, and South Korea did initially experience very high rates of Covid-19 infections. But over the past several months, these countries have generally performed better than the United States at reducing their pandemic death rates, according to data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Between August 1 and September 15, 2020, the U.S. death rate per million people was closer to that of Brazil and Mexico, two highly unequal developing countries, than it was to the rates of more egalitarian developed nations. One major factor: unlike the United States, all of the countries in this chart that have made substantial progress towards controlling Covid-19 have universal public health care.

The Trump administration’s failure to control the pandemic has hit Black and Indigenous people particularly hard. According to the APM Research Lab, Black Americans have Covid-19 death rates that are more than twice as high as other races. The pandemic economic crisis has also been especially devastating for Black and Brown families. A Pew Research Center survey in April showed that 61 percent of Latinx households and 44 percent of Black households had experienced a job or wage loss due to the pandemic, compared to 38 percent of White households.

These are just four of our 13 just-published charts showing how Covid-19 — and the failed policy response — have widened inequalities. The others focus on the disparate impacts on people of color, women, transgender people, immigrants, and care economy workers. We will continue to expand and update this series as more data becomes available.

In time, we are hopeful that the data will begin to show a reversal of these disturbing trends. In the midst of so much suffering, more and more people of all races, genders, and economic backgrounds are standing up and fighting for transformative change. They are demanding more than merely an end to the pandemic and the recession. They are demanding a new, more just, equitable, and sustainable society and economy.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Brian Wakamo

Brian Wakamo

Brian Wakamo is a researcher on the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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