CBC: 'We've kept the whole damn country running': Pandemic deepens divide between haves and have-nots in U.S.

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A deadly pandemic is about to force a reckoning upon a nation whose cherished founding creed is that all people are created equal.

It's becoming clearer which Americans will shoulder an unequal share of the suffering from start to finish of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the United States becomes the new epicentre of it.

Poorer people are less likely to get tested early, to have health coverage, to be allowed to work from home, to get paid leave and to work or study from a video-streaming connection.

They are more likely to be packing groceries, washing buildings and encountering other people's germs while keeping the country running.

At the very onset of the crisis, it was apparent that not everyone enjoyed the same access to screening.

Until a couple of days ago, more players in the National Basketball Association (total population: 550) tested positive than the entire populace of West Virginia (population: 1.8 million).

Wealthy athletes paid for private tests. But in one of the poorest states, a resident told CBC News it's a no-brainer why there were zero reported cases until a few days ago: only a few dozen people had been tested.

"Because we don't go to the doctor," said Amy Jo Hutchison, a former preschool teacher, now a an anti-poverty activist, in West Virginia's traditional steel-producing area.

"Because we can't afford to go to the doctor. We don't go to the doctor unless we think we're going to die."

Global problem with American twist

To be clear, inequality in pandemics is a global phenomenon — it's true in Canada today, and it was true of pandemics in the past, such as the Spanish flu, which tended to hit poor people hardest.

But this pandemic presents particular challenges in the U.S., which the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development ranks as one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.

It's partly driven by uneven access to health care.

Even before this crisis, nearly 10 per cent of Americans lacked it — and now, with rising joblessness, those numbers could explode, because nearly half of Americans get insurance through their jobs.

 
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