The two major political parties in the United States are in an all-out sprint leading up to the presidential election. Neither has had a shortage of digital mediums to amplify their views to the public. The American public’s increased reliance on social media as a source of news is worrisome because of the propensity of these platforms to spread misinformation. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this trend, tethering people ever more to their personal electronic devices and fostering a boom of both digital crime and misinformation.
In the US, women make 82¢ for every man’s $1––a significant disparity that is exacerbated by factors like race and education. As the pandemic rages on, women are bearing the brunt if it on multiple levels: 1) as essential workers on the frontlines; 2) being over-represented in occupations that are not conducive to working from home, and losing jobs crucial to their economic stability; and 3) being under-represented in jobs that could shift to a digital medium, and all this while paying the price of chronic pay gaps and an unequal division of household labor.
While contingents push to re-open, states have begun to reverse course as the virus surges to new heights. States with better digital readiness possess the capacity to endure longer periods of lockdowns, and those continuing to observe strict social distancing measures are better prepared to arrest COVID-19 transmission.
Pre-existing racial disparities in unemployment, digital access, and financial resilience, have been exacerbated in COVID-19’s wake. Black communities have been disproportionately impacted––in mortality, morbidity, unemployment, and financial losses. As governments and businesses prepare to navigate the economic and public health repercussions of the pandemic, it is crucial to account for these extant inequalities to ensure inclusive recovery.
Having robust digital platforms are key for business and public services continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic. While Kentucky and Washington both witnessed over a third of their workforce file for unemployment between March and mid-May, the latter state is better equipped to: 1) allow its employed workforce to work from home with low disruption; 2) enable unemployed workers to potentially shift to work that allows them to work from home; and most importantly, 3) support unemployed workers in their search for jobs and to seamlessly file for unemployment insurance online.
While states have been quick to expand telehealth policies in response to the pandemic, there exists a disconnect between policy action and the infrastructure available to support access. Sixteen of the 34 states with expanded telehealth policies have below-average coverage of broadband-speed internet connectivity—a major impediment to digitally administered healthcare.
Urban-Rural Divides: The Uneven Experience of COVID-19 Across the States | Digitally ready states, which were able to implement strict social distancing and visibly reduce COVID-19 infection rates, also had an overwhelmingly urban population with greater opportunities to work, educate, and interact in a socially distant world.
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare longstanding and systemic issues of inequality in the United States. Certain marginalized races and ethnicities (Black or African American and Hispanic or Latinx households) are over-represented in less-flexible, low-tech, and “high-touch” occupations and under-represented in the information economy and “high-tech” occupations; an outcome of decades of disparity in access to critical digital services like stable and affordable internet and computers.
Even as COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the United States, reaching over 1.67 million cases and nearly 100,000 deaths as of May 26, 2020, many states are now beginning to ease social distancing and stay-at-home mandates. Each state is taking its own unique approach to lifting stay at home orders, allowing businesses to open, and loosening social distancing regulations, due in no small part to a lack of direction from the federal government.
Social Distance Readiness Benchmark | Are countries around the world prepared to keep the wheels of their economies turning during Coronavirus lockdowns? Watch the Social Distance Readiness Benchmark video summary to find out.