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The crises our families face every day

Julia Mejia and Imari Paris Jeffries

Inequality is nothing new; it’s only front-of-mind right now because we are in the middle of a pandemic. COVID-19 has turned life as we know it on its head. But for many, it intensified the challenges that parents and families already face in their daily lives.

So far, the conversation around COVID-19 susceptibility has understandably focused on the elderly and those with compromised health; however, there is another group which needs to be uplifted in our fight against this public health crisis, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: working class people and those experiencing poverty.

Poor health outcomes are directly tied to our broken economic system. Low-income workers are more susceptible to chronic health conditions and, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, many low-income occupations see some of the highest rates of uninsured, such as cooks, construction laborers, cashiers, waitstaff and others. These are workers who do not have the luxury of working from home but, because of their occupation, are now deemed “essential.”

And this inequity is playing out in the newly released data on COVID-19 infection rates in New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic here in the U.S. Elmhurst hospital in Western Queens is the hardest hit, with ER visits over six times the city average. The population of Western Queens is 35% service workers, over 60% rent-burdened, and is the third most overcrowded neighborhood in the city.

This upsetting trend is reflected in the recent data on COVID-19 infection rates in Boston, with Mattapan, Dorchester and Hyde Park — neighborhoods with high rates of non-English speakers — being hit the hardest. According to data published by the Boston Health Commission on cases that have reported ethnic data, 44% of known cases are in the black community alone as of April 10.

The families we partner with at Parenting Journey and those Councilor Mejia represents are making difficult economic decisions every day, not just during a pandemic. We are hearing from families who are deciding whether to pay their electric bill or put food on the table, due to massive layoffs and work closures. Not to mention those who are continuing to work despite dangerous working conditions so they can make ends meet.

We applaud the Massachusetts Legislature and Governor Baker for their swift action in addressing the emergent needs of families during this pandemic, like ensuring no one’s utilities are turned off, limiting evictions until the end of April, waiving the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits, and granting emergency sick time. On a local level, a call for a moratorium on rent, mortgages and evictions on commercial properties, filed by Councilor Mejia, seeks to uplift the voices of those living the realities in the time of this public health crisis.

But isn’t it time that we live in a society where these things are always available to the families who need them?

Nonprofits like Parenting Journey are doing our best to fill the gaps by providing emergency funding to families, but we can’t do this alone. If we are going to stop income inequality in its tracks, we must create a reality in which all families have enough in their savings account, or a strong enough social safety net, to weather any kind of crisis.

We realize that there is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach for families facing these challenges every day, but this virus is showing us that we need to do better. As such, it is imperative that our local and state officials take bold measures to close the wealth gap and help our parents and families thrive every day.

Julia Mejia is an at-large Boston city councilor. Imari Paris Jeffries is executive director of Parenting Journey.

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