The unequal crisis: poor, rich new york

No other US city has been hit as hard by the corona virus as New York. A ARD-Data research shows: One reason for this is the inequality that is deeply rooted in the city.

New York is the glittering metropolis, the place of longing, the colorful, dynamic and always surprising city – at least that is the cliche. But apart from the glowing facades, things have been looking different for a long time. Because New York is also poverty, neglect, homelessness, even among school children.

Even before the pandemic, one million of the 8.4 million inhabitants could not feed themselves from their own resources. In the midst of the pandemic, this side of the city is becoming increasingly visible. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced ten weeks after the coronavirus outbreak that the number had risen to two million. In the city of Wall Street, one in four New Yorkers is now considered "food insecure", so they are dependent on food donations.

The boundaries between rich and poor

How can such a rich city fall so low and offer so little safety net to those who fall? And why is New York hit so hard in the pandemic? An ARD data search has evaluated data from the US Department of Health and the census. The result: In addition to the dense settlement, the holey social system and the late shutdown in the Corona crisis, the reasons are primarily in the structure of the city, which existed long before Covid-19. This structure shows a division of the city into unequal quarters.

Health – in some places a luxury good

The data make it clear how unevenly income is distributed across the city – and that health has long been a luxury in some areas. In South Bronx, where the Latina Emerita Ramoon lives, the average household income within a kilometer of her home is $ 27,000 a year. Fifteen percent here have no health insurance – more than half of the residents have to rely on Medicaid and Medicare, the state health care system for the low-paid, the elderly or the disabled.

"You can see that there isn’t a lot of money in my neighborhood," she says. "Many have no health insurance and do not go to the doctor when they are sick – because they cannot afford it. It was clear that this area would be hit hard in such a situation – because of the poverty."

Nine kilometers further: another world

In contrast, earnings on the Upper East Side, nine kilometers away, averaged around $ 150,000. This is where the city apartment of multimillionaire Ian Bickley is. 96 percent of residents can afford private health insurance within a radius of one kilometer.

"Look at me," says Bickley, "my family looks at what kind of life we ​​can lead. We have been barely affected by the effects of the pandemic, especially financially. We can simply afford to escape it. Many others cannot. "

What promotes the spread

The poorer neighborhoods have more people living in confined spaces, a key factor in the spread of the pandemic. While in the West Village in Manhattan, on average, only one or two people share an apartment, in other parts of the city there are significantly more. In North Corona, Queens, the mean is 4.5 people per household.

In the district of Staten Island, large parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, but also in Queens there are areas in which more than 60 percent, sometimes even more than 80 percent, of people with white skin color live. Parts of the Bronx and Queens, which are predominantly darker skinned, have the highest Covid-19 death toll in the city.

In addition to access to good health care, other factors also play a role: Air pollution is often higher, there is less access to healthy food.

Lifestyle, previous illnesses – and the consequences for Covid-19

The unhealthy lifestyle is also reflected in the frequency of previous illnesses: the lower the household income, the greater the proportion of overweight people and people with chronic lung diseases in New York – two factors that make a severe course of Covid-19 much more likely.

Corona: Amplifier of system errors

The corona crisis is having massive effects in New York, and the data analysis shows that the virus is not to blame. The city has so far failed to tackle growing inequality. The pandemic has cemented the differences, with deadly effects. Covid-19 acted like an amplifier of system errors.

Ian Bickley is therefore in favor of increasing taxes for high earners and using them more specifically to combat inequality. "The situation of the poor is getting worse and worse. If we as a country want to get back on the right track, we have to address these fundamental problems first."

Emerita Ramoon, on the other hand, has long since lost hope in politics – she only relies on herself: "I have to think like a businesswoman, because that’s how this country is run here – like a business."

The pandemic is driving the division

However, there is still a long way to go to economic recovery in the city. At the end of September, the number of applications for unemployment benefit was eight times the level of the previous year, and unemployment is twice as high as the national average. At the same time, more and more wealthy New Yorkers are leaving the city. That will increase the budget gap of more than eight billion dollars that has already been created.

In addition: Despite all precautionary measures, the number of infections is rising again in individual quarters. A development that in turn remains the most dangerous for those who are already among the most vulnerable groups in the population.

You can see the documentary "Poor, rich New York – the unequal crisis" on November 4th, 2020 at 11:20 pm in Das Erste and already now in ARD media library.

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