The coronavirus epidemic that has put the world under lockdown is having numerous negative consequences, and one of them is the terrifying impoverishment people are experiencing in many countries.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the economic and social consequences of the outbreak were compared with the 2008–2009 financial crisis, but now researchers are beginning to compare it with the Great Depression. “COVID-19 is laying bare socio-economic inequalities and could exacerbate them in the near future,” writes economist Enrico Bergamini, a research assistant at the Bruegel European think tank. People will feel the economic shock brought on by the pandemic in different ways, depending on their level of income, living conditions and profession, which may make society more polarized.
At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, the media was dominated by headlines about business people losing billions within a short space of time, but as time went on, the most vulnerable socio-economic groups have begun feeling the more and more painful impact of the financial blow, as they could face a significant deterioration in living standards or even be left with nothing at all. The International Labor Organization fears that more than one billion workers are at high risk of a pay cut or being left completely unemployed. The UN is also sounding the alarm: the current crisis may undo the significant progress that had been made over recent decades towards the target of ending poverty, which had been set for 2030.
Rising poverty levels are already becoming visible in many countries, including those considered “socially stable” up until recently, where the societal problems that have been building up over the past number of years are being revealed and intensified. For instance, according to data from the British Department for Work and Pensions, the number of Britons living below the poverty line in the UK had risen to a record high of 14.5 million people even before the COVID-19 pandemic. There has recently been dramatic increase in the number of people living in “relative low-income” households. In 2018-19, the number of people living in a relative low-income household rose by 500,000, the highest number of people living in poverty in the UK since figures were collated in 2002, while the number of children estimated to be living below the poverty line rose from 4.1 million to 4.2 million in the same period. According to British experts, the coronavirus epidemic could make what is already a difficult situation for low-income families in Britain even worse.
The coronavirus crisis has not spared America, the global hegemon, which now not only has the world’s largest number of confirmed coronavirus case and coronavirus-related deaths, but whose society is also experiencing widespread impoverishment on a mass scale. According to PrisonPlanet.com, poverty in the United States is reaching unprecedented levels, the middle class is dying day by day, unemployment is growing at a catastrophic rate, and more people are living in extreme poverty. According to the United States Census Bureau, about 47 million Americans are currently living below the poverty line. One in five children in America lives on food stamps, and a third of children live in families with incomes 60% below the national average. Roughly 1.5 million households earn less than $2 USD a day, and these types of households have doubled since 1996. Another 25% of Americans are in what is known as “negative equity”, which means that they owe more money on their loans than their property is worth. And the richest 0.1% of American families own as much property as the combined wealth of the bottom 90% of American families.
Drastic income cuts are known to impact mental health and can lead to mental illnesses. As a result of the current situation, there has been a surge in US suicide rates. It is true that suicide rates in the US have been breaking records for years, but 2020 looks set to be a particularly grave year. Although this kind of information is not published officially in the United States, some alternative American media outlets are nevertheless already sounding the alarm and highlighting this harrowing trend in the United States of America — the world’s wealthiest country There has been a significant spike in suicides among American farmers, where the farmers’ suicide rate is now higher than the suicide rate among drug users. These suicides have become so widespread lately that they can no longer be covered up.
Dairy farmers are usually at greater risk of suicide than farmers engaged in crop farming. The median monthly farm income earned by American farm households dipped to $ 1,325 in 2017. US farmers are very often either forced to sell their crops for next to nothing or simply destroy them. The sharp fall in milk prices in 2015 dealt dairy farms a decisive blow from which they have yet to recover. The aggressive propaganda of the militant vegan wing of eco-warriors against people consuming dairy products has presented another problem. Greta Thunberg, the most recognizable face of the green agenda, has been actively calling for people to make the transition to plant-based milk alternatives, which has significantly contributed to the rapid decline in milk consumption in the United States. This movement is catching on at a particularly rapid pace in “progressive” states such as New York. And that is where the suicide rate for farmers is at its highest since records began.
The same incredibly simple economic factor is leading to farmers committing suicide all over the country. The first problem farmers are faced with is the reality of having to sell their products at a price equal to the production cost or having to sell it at a loss. If they have not got enough money to feed their families, they will still have to take out a bank loan next year to pay for seeds, fertilizers and diesel, and to cover the repairs for farm equipment and machinery. These farmers run up a huge amount of debt that they will never be able to pay off. The credit organization sends debt collectors to their homes, who intimidate farmers and their families, make a show of them in front of their neighbors, and even make direct death threats.
On top of these loans, farmers often take out a life insurance policy, as they are instructed to do so by the bank. Some companies only allow insurance payouts to beneficiaries if the insured commits suicide two years or later after the policy was issued. All too often after two years of debt and interest payments, farmers think that their families will at least receive a tidy sum and be able to pay off their debts if they commit suicide.
An incident which took place on March 31 illustrates the harmful impact the coronavirus epidemic is having on people’s mental health in America, where 44-year-old train engineer Eduardo Moreno ran a Pacific Harbour Line train off the end of its rail tracks at full speed at the Port of Los Angeles. During his interrogation, Moreno admitted that he deliberately derailed the train, crashed through a series of barriers and plowed through a chain-link fence at the port in San Pedro, as he intended to hit the U.S.N.S. Mercy, a Navy hospital ship, which he thought was “suspicious”. Let’s not forget that the Mercy is a floating hospital that had been sent to Los Angeles to help the authorities in the fight against the coronavirus. The ship is meant to accommodate patients from local hospitals who are not infected with COVID-19, and therefore help free up local hospitals to deal with coronavirus cases.
The situation in the United States is unlikely to change for the better in the near future. Businesses both small and large are being forced to lay off their employees or have them take unpaid leave. Millions of Americans are losing their jobs as work at both large and small companies is put on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic, which will only increase the level of poverty among ordinary Americans. Given the huge financial strain and psychological stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lengthy lockdown period, the inequality in American society is only set to grow, which may lead to an increase in social unrest.
Vladimir Odintsov, political commentator, exclusively for online magazine the “New Eastern Outlook”.