“Coronavirus hits people of color harder.”

April 4, 2020 at 5:13 pm (By Amba) (, )

Illustration of a pie chart with two slices, with the bigger slice shaped as a virus
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Communities of color and low-income families are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus, Axios’ Sam Baker and Alison Snyder report.

Why it matters: The virus itself doesn’t discriminate. But it’s beginning to reflect the racial and socioeconomic disparities of the cities where it’s spreading and the health care system that’s struggling to contain it.

The big picture: There’s no nationwide data on the demographics of coronavirus cases or deaths. But preliminary data from several large metro areas seem pretty clear.

Black residents make up about 33% of Mecklenburg County, N.C., which includes Charlotte, but account for roughly 44% of its coronavirus cases, according to The Charlotte Observer.

Milwaukee County, Wis., is 26% black — yet African Americans account for almost half of the coronavirus cases and 80% of the deaths, according to ProPublica.

The hardest-hit neighborhoods in New York City have large immigrant populations, per the Wall Street Journal

Statewide data from Michigan show that African Americans make up a plurality of both cases (35%) and deaths (40%), but just 14% of the state’s population.

What they’re saying: “It puzzles me that none of our responses at the federal or state level has talked about race,” said Lehigh University’s Sirry Alang, who studies health disparities and inequities.“There’s been no focus on the ways in which our policy decisions might have unintended consequences for these populations.”

Between the lines: This apparent inequity in coronavirus cases reflects a slew of other, pre-existing disparities.African Americans are more likely to have several underlying health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and some cancers that can make COVID-19 infections more severe.

Lower-income areas — which tend to have larger nonwhite populations — have less access to health care services.Substandard housing, multiple families living together, and homelessness all facilitate the virus’ spread.

* * *

Consider this a companion piece to this post.

Do you think Trump and his followers feel at all badly about this? Or are they (quiet or out loud) somewhere between “act of God” and “serves them right”? It’s horrifying how this serves their agenda.

A Trump supporter I know in Chicago said to me in that “just between us white folks” side-of-the-mouth sotto voce that the majority of COVID-19 cases there are concentrated “on the South Side” (code for “Black”) and it’s because “they’re careless . . . [in a mocking simper] ‘The government will take care of me.'” Then she *shrieked* “I’M SO SICK OF SOCIALISM!!!”

I simply copied an Axios story with all its links, because it won’t let me link to just this part of the newsletter, and Facebook won’t include the links.

But I’ll relent and say, Do read the rest of Axios’s “deep dive.” The next section is headed, “… and its economic impact is unequal, too.”

The bottom line: “It’s a precarious time for people who are already vulnerable.”

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What are your rules for giving on the street?

January 10, 2020 at 10:39 am (By Amba) (, )

In this country with its ever more “shredded social safety net” (in the words of an article I just linked), we are largely taking care of each other, dollar by dollar. Leave home, where your inbox is full of pleading worthy causes and GoFundMes, and every walk down the street is a gantlet of accostments by need, and every subway ride has an audio track of homeless disabled veterans’ pitches and amplified mariachi or rap performances. If you can indulge yourself in a $5 latte and don’t worry about having a roof over your head, you can feel like part of the problem. But if you relented for every charity busker, street musician, and panhandler, you’d soon need food stamps yourself.

What are your unwritten rules for when to give or not give, or do you rely on mood or spontaneous response?

I broke one of my own rules yesterday, which made me realize that there are rules (a necessity to sort out the chaos and resist the giant sucking sound of a society circling the drain) and wonder what they are.

I am now a member of Greenpeace, which I didn’t want to be. (Nothing against Greenpeace, it’s just not on my current list of revolving causes and subscriptions.) Two young people stepped into my path on the way home from karate and asked if I cared about climate change. I began to make a wide berth around them, my standard practice with those clipboard-toting less-than-minimum-wage makers. Yes, it’s an awful job, but it’s an awful idea to hold hurrying people up and shake them down in public. 

I was giving them my usual surly, “Yes, but I don’t do this on the street” when the young woman gestured at the young man and said, ‘It’s his first day. I’m training him. You’d be his first.'” Well, that was too auspicious—for both of us—to pass up.

They looked to be in their 20s. She was small and pixieish, with short blond hair, skim-milk skin, a twice-pierced nose, and long glitzy fingernails that forced her to tap her tablet with the sides of her fingers—a mash-up of punk and Walmart cashier. He was tall, rugged, with an inert handshake (shy but resigned to this insult to his introversion), biracial or mildly black. He gave his pitch well, and with real conviction. They both gave the impression that they not only needed the job but cared about the cause.

They showed me a “report card” of the various 2020 candidates’ climate policies. Bernie got A+; Warren, Steyer, and Booker, A–. They proudly said Greenpeace itself had talked Biden up from a D to a B+. Buttigieg and Gabbard got solid B’s. Klobuchar and Yang were C+, Bloomberg D+. Trump of course got an F (we agreed the F was for the rest of us). The girl said Bernie was her first choice, Warren second. I suddenly loved these fresh young people and wondered if Greenpeace, a “mature” charity with (perhaps) a well-paid CEO and a top-heavy bureaucracy, deserves or is just exploiting them.

The form on their tablets signs you up for a recurring monthly donation, and the default suggestion is $25. No way! I suggested $10. She said their minimum is the desired minimum wage: $15. So I signed up for that. I can support Greenpeace for a few months and then opt out.

This made me think about my rules more generally.

  • I always give to street and subway musicians (most of whom, as Polly points out in the comments, are aspiring, not necessarily starving, artists) if they move me; they’re working for a living and it’s a helluva better entertainment budget than a subscription to Lincoln Center.
  • I tend to give to panhandlers who seem depressed and don’t have the heart for a polished pitch. I’ll sometimes walk half a block past them and turn back. Conversely, I’ll often give to panhandlers who unfailingly say “God bless you” even to those who won’t look at them. That works on me.
  • I tend NOT to give to hardened, able-bodied coin-shakers or the guys who open the bank door for you. They’re imposing themselves and it’s annoying.
  • I’ll sometimes give to a young homeless person with a dog or a cat if the animal looks well-treated and devoted. (There used to be an older man sitting on the West 4th Street subway stairs who exploited kittens. He always had a fresh box of them to attract donations. I shudder to think what he did with them when they got too old to be super cute. We ratted him out to the precinct a couple of times before he gave that up.)

And what gets you to break your unwritten rules? A little middle-aged man said he was hungry and asked me for a dollar for a hot dog or hamburger—”I’m going right over to McDonald’s”—and I gave him two. Why? I think because he came up close and mumbled his request as if it were a confidence. He got enough inside my personal space (without aggression) to make the appeal personal. I gave him two bucks, and, in plain view, he turned around and scuttled right into the CVS! All I could think was, What on earth can he get over-the-counter in there that will ease his craving?

And what’s with the guy who sits with a huge water jug and singsongs tirelessly, “One penny is all we ask. A fellow human being should not go hungry”? What’s his story? Is he the “fellow human being” he’s talking about? And if not, who are his beneficiaries? It’s a mystery. I suppose I could ask.

There are endless stories of these uneasy encounters between those inside and outside society’s privileged shelter. It renews my admiration for the courage of my friend Sachiko Hamada, who, in the 1980s, involved herself in the lives of a community of homeless people and made an award-winning film about them. It’s called Inside Life Outside.

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Rare Praise for an Airline (… oops)

December 31, 2019 at 6:48 pm (By Amba) (, , )

How often is it that you have anything good to say about your experience with an airline’s customer service?

I have flown to Chicago on American enough times to have enough miles for half my trip to Miami and back for the jazz cruise to be award travel. But the AA website’s page for booking award travel was hopelessly byzantine. It looked as if I could only use award travel for roundtrip, and in that case, either fuhgeddaboudit or “buy miles,” which has always seemed to me to cancel out the whole point. Why would you do that?

With a sinking heart I called the 800 number, expecting to speak to someone reading from a script in a call center half a world away. Now, I’m glad for that person that they have a job. It’s their turn to be the middle class. I can see without too much rancor that someone benefits from almost any situation someone else objects to. (For example, if Trump does win the election—which I don’t think is a done deal by any means—I’ll at least have the consolation of knowing that a few friends of mine, like Mike Castellaneta, are happy. And then I’ll have the consolation of Schadenfreude when things go deep south. 😜) When I’ve had time and patience, I’ve had conversations that were little windows opening on Manila or Bangalore. But when it comes to making a domestic U.S. plane reservation, it’s hard to imagine that that person can begin to imagine what goes on here. Any question that’s not on the script, and you have to ask for a supervisor. I often start out asking for one.

But, no. It was a smooth and gracious-voiced all-American, who spoke like an idealized 1950s air hostess. She sounded blonde. We chatted; turned out she had grown up in New York City and is now in Raleigh. She was extraordinarily efficient, friendly, and helpful. She said that under today’s circumstances she was grateful to have her job, and loves it—loves solving people’s travel problems. She was certainly good at it. With her help I could indeed book half my trip as award travel and pay for the other half. The outcome was that it’s costing me $150 roundtrip to fly to Miami.

I could hardly believe it. What a smart corporation, I thought, focusing on human, homegrown, interactive customer service. What a pleasure. They’ll beat the pants off their competitors with this approach.

Gradually it dawned on me that she was on the elite award travel desk. She must have dealt all day long with Platinum Club members. I was just getting crumbs from the rich people’s table.

That said, American is pretty good. They don’t punish you for flying “Basic Economy” the way United does. You get a free carry-on AND a personal item.


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