Arbitrary shutdowns will hurt those already most vulnerable to COVID-19

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Nine months into the worst pandemic in modern times, the United States continues to wrestle with the best way to safeguard lives and livelihoods. We remember not so long ago when smart men and women began to scratch their heads in dismay over the coronavirus’s massive impact on poor communities, where mostly African Americans and Hispanic Americans live and work. We were more shocked by their puzzlement than by the fact that people of color are suffering the most from the virus. 

As the Biden administration looks for solutions to the economic devastation inflicted on lower-income communities, they would be wise to take a page out of the Trump administration’s opportunity agenda. 

For decades, those communities that saw the most detrimental disinvestment were predominantly minority communities. In our view, solutions come from programs such as the Trump administration’s opportunities zones, which have increased investment in lower-income communities by over $75 billion in just two years.

Over the past 50 years, the health care disparities gap, income gap and education gap between whites and Blacks have increased. Pre-pandemic, the Trump administration’s policies made economic gains by reaching the lowest unemployment in generations for Blacks, Hispanics and women   

However, when Black, college-educated households have a median net wealth of $32,000 and white, non-college-educated households have a median net wealth of about $80,000, we begin to understand why Black communities are so devastated by COVID-19 and government-imposed economic shutdowns. Families with higher net wealth and more savings are better prepared to weather the coronavirus storm. They can better adhere to stay-at-home recommendations because they are less likely to need to work outside of their homes.

As many Americans face the harsh realities of enhanced unemployment benefits coming to an end, the best hope for economic stability is increased opportunity through employment, not arbitrary shutdowns during the most crucial commercial season of the year.  

Fortunately, Operation Warp Speed has produced several vaccines that show great promise. In addition to economic devastation, minority communities have suffered disproportionate physical devastation from the virus. With a vaccine reportedly only weeks away from being offered to high-risk Americans, the best medicine the Biden administration could provide are guidelines that increase public safety through the use of face masks, frequent hand-washing and social distancing — but not shutting down industries that provide economic stability.

It is difficult to justify the harsh restrictions on some businesses while others are allowed to run like clockwork. Restaurant workers clearly have less clout in state government than airline workers, as evidenced by the fewer restrictions imposed on boarding a plane versus eating a socially-distanced meal in a restaurant. We guess the science of cramming 200 people into close quarters of a plane with recycled air somehow produces a different outcome than allowing the same number of people to sit apart from one another in a restaurant, or a church, for that matter.

More than 100,000 restaurants have closed during the pandemic. Some chic, high-end restaurants have survived, such as French Laundry, the go-to spot for California officials who break their own shutdown rules. However, many of restaurants whose doors are shuttered were mom-and-pop eateries that once served as the lifeblood of local communities. It seems a cruel, vicious cycle. These vanishing restaurants equal even more vanishing jobs that employed some of America’s most economically vulnerable populations.   

Deana Bass Williams is a partner at Bass Public Affairs in the Washington area. A Republican strategist, she is the former deputy chief of staff to Housing Secretary Ben Carson. Follow her on Twitter @deana_basswms.

Dee Dee Bass Wilbon is managing partner at Bass Public Affairs. She is co-host of the podcast, “Policy and Pound Cake.” Follow her on Twitter @deedeewilbon.

Tags coronavirus economy coronavirus shutdown Donald Trump Joe Biden Joe Biden administration Opportunity Zones program

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