Skip to navigationSkip to content

Coronavirus is revealing ugly truths about social structure in the US

Reuters/Shannon Stapleton
National Guard troops helping with food distribution in New Rochelle, New York.
By Hanna Kozlowska
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting every possible aspect of life—and thus confronting Americans with ugly truths about the way US society functions.

Any crisis or emergency throws into sharp relief the lack of a social safety net in the US. This virus outbreak, the most widespread in decades, is exposing the country’s social vulnerabilities all at the same time. Some of them will be addressed in a comprehensive relief package that Congress and the White House agreed upon on March 13. It includes “paid emergency leave with two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave,” according to House speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as free coronavirus testing for those who don’t have health insurance and increased food aid and Medicaid funding.

But this solution only underscores the fact that Americans lack some basic protections on a day-to-day basis. For one thing, the paid sick leave provision in the coronavirus bill does not apply to companies with 500 or more employees, as The New York Times notes. Such large companies employ more than half of US workers.

These facts of life that are not new discoveries, and will be known to people who work in these fields or follow news around it. It’s not an exhaustive list, and it’s a highly subjective one, crowdsourced in the Quartz newsroom.

Homelessness and hunger

  • With schools shutting down in Europe and in the US, New York, which is the largest school district in the US, has had to face the reality that if it shutters its public schools, hundreds of thousands of children would face extreme difficulties. Around 114,000 New York City students are homeless, and more than 700,000 are poor, The New York Times reports. Many depend on schools for their meals, medical care, and even laundry. In New Rochelle, a town north of New York hit hard by the coronavirus, volunteers and the National Guard had to step in to help with arranging meals for kids in need.
  • The issue of schools closing down can have similarly dire consequences for college students, many of whom can’t just pack up their bags and travel back home. More than half of US college students are housing-insecure.

Paid leave and privilege

  • Americans do not have paid sick leave, which is standard in many countries in normal, pandemic-less circumstances. Some companies have changed their leave policies, and federal lawmakers included it in their relief package.


Society’s most vulnerable

Lila MacLellan contributed to this piece, as did other Quartz reporters. This post has been updated.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.