Karen Dolan Pandemic

A Pandemic of the Poor

As we approach 1 million COVID-19 deaths, Americans in poorer counties have died at double the rate of wealthier counties.
[Transformer18 / CC BY-ND 2.0]

By Karen Dolan | OtherWords

As our country approaches 1 million deaths from COVID-19, it can feel impossible to wrap our heads around such a devastating figure. But it’s essential if we want to treat the pre-existing conditions that made it so deadly.

In the beginning, many thought the pandemic would be “a great equalizer,” since the virus doesn’t distinguish between rich and poor. But the tragic reality is that our economic and public health systems do discriminate.

A coalition of researchers convened by the Poor People’s Campaign recently published a report making this reality plain.

The researchers define poverty to include all those living up to 200 percent of the official poverty measure, which has long been considered too low to capture those who struggle the hardest to make ends meet.

Using this measure, they found that COVID-19 death rates in poorer U.S. counties were nearly double those wealthier counties.

The gap was even bigger during the worst phases of the pandemic. During the dark winter of 2020-2021, four and a half times as many people in poorer counties died. During the Delta phase, that number shot up to five times.

Vaccination rates tend to be somewhat greater in wealthier counties, but this study looked at counties where vaccination rates topped more than 85 percent. So vaccination can’t account for the disparity.

What can account for it is poverty. The over 300 counties with the highest death rates had average poverty rates of 45 percent.

These counties include 30 million Americans of every color. Latinx Americans make up about a quarter of their population, while their Black population is about double the national average. What’s more, these counties are home to nearly 30 percent of all Indigenous people in the United States.

They’re also home to many poor whites. Although COVID-related deaths fell disproportionately on people of color, these poorer white people suffered the most deaths.

Experts and impacted people testified recently about these findings in Washington, D.C.

“At times, our county’s rate of COVID hospitalizations and deaths led the nation,” said Bruce Grau of Wausau, Wisconsin. “In the first six months of the pandemic, nearly all of the residents in just one nursing home died penniless and alone.”

“Because I don’t have money, it was 17 days before they told me I had COVID,” testified Tyrone Gardner of Goldsboro, North Carolina. “We were slaughtered for the almighty dollar, and we won’t be sacrificed anymore,” declared Pamela Garrison of West Virginia.

“It was hard for us to get the vaccine,” recalled Vanessa Nosie, a member of the Apache Stronghold in New Mexico. “Our lives aren’t valued. They look at us like it doesn’t hurt that we don’t survive.”

“The findings of this report reveal intentional decisions to not focus on the poor,” summed up Reverend WIlliam Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. “We cannot say that this is because of individual choices or behaviors.”

Instead, he declared, “something deeper is at work: systems that prey on the poor — poor white people and poor people of color.”

The lessons of this pandemic are brutal and myriad. One of its most important is that when a public health crisis runs headlong into systemic inequities in wages, wealth, and health care, the result is mass death among those the system is rigged against.

The Poor People’s Campaign has been mobilizing Americans across the country to un-rig this system. “This data is a wake-up call for this nation to heed the calls of the Poor People’s Campaign,” said John Cavanagh of the Institute for Policy Studies.

This summer, the campaign is organizing a mass mobilization of poor and low-income people in Washington, D.C. to fight back. On June 18, thousands of poor people and their allies will arrive in the capital, calling on lawmakers to treat the pre-existing conditions of a pandemic that’s killed nearly 1 million Americans.

They welcome all to join them.

Karen Dolan

Karen Dolan

Karen Dolan directs the Criminalization of Race and Poverty Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.


  1. While the inequalities and economic/racial factors in our healthcare system are very real, and tragic … The numbers regarding “Covid deaths” are pseudoscientific sophistry, and always have been.


    The US has some of the worst outcomes relative to Covid – in the entire world. That’s as much to do with the corrupt HHS/NIH/FDA/CDC/NIAID Bureaucracy and connections to Big Pfharma, as it does to inequality in healthcare delivery.

    In fact – people that DON’T get care in America – fare better than those that do. Remdesivir is TOXIC, and it causes multiple organ failure, it has no proven benefits (except for the profits of Gilead pharmaceuticals). That’s the only approved treatment in our hospitals, aside from ventilators, which also kill people (nasal cannulas with high flow O2 work much better, as does inhaled Budesonide – neither of which will US hospitals generally provide). These are IATROGENIC DEATHS – not Covid deaths.

    Of course many Covid death statistics are just bogus. Gun shot victims, traffic accidents, stage 4 cancer patients in hospice care, alcohol poisonings, people who fell off ladders, etc. have all been listed as “Covid deaths” – to arrive at the “1 Million” number, which the article simply assumes to be correct. But it isn’t. Death WITH a positive test result, perhaps taken off of a corpse on the way to the morgue, but never any symptoms – is typically listed as death FROM COVID, falsely

    There are real problems with the way we treat Covid patients…sadly, at present, a lack of care only results in better outcomes. If we did a better job of promoting safe and effective early treatments, instead of deadly profits for Hospitals and Big Pfharma – then this study might be more relevant.



  2. This, in a round-about way, did indicate that the majority of US poor are white. The fact is, neither Covid nor the government care about skin color. They only consider class/job status. By now, I think it would be exceedingly difficult to educate the middle class about the correlation between job loss and homelessness, as nearly all media indicate that “the poorest” are low-wage workers (disappearing those left with $0 incomes). Throughout this pandemic, the sole mention I’ve come across in media regarding the poorest was one article that briefly mentioned the mass burials of the homeless in New York. This shows how far the country has sunk.

  3. To overcome the World Wide Pandemic of the POOR look no further than the TAX SYSTEM of the World. They are the root cause. The remedy is LIBERTY TAX. Please see my Facebook Page.
    Best wishes Stay safe
    Derek in Australia 🇦🇺

  4. But wasn’t Uncle Joe going to raise the minimum wage?

    Ohh! I forgot; he’s too busy persecuting Ukrainians, Russians and Europeans to have the time for this.

  5. I invite the author and her readers to check out the book INFLAMED: DEEP MEDICINE AND THE ANATOMY OF INJUSTICE to better understand the reason why there’s such a vast disparity in this case, and so many others. Here’s a link to Dr. Rupa Mayra’s website – https://rupamarya.org/writing/

  6. There’s never been a pandemic, only a scamdemic, and some of the many reasons for this are summed up enough with Another+Worldview+Is+Possible above. At this point, after more than two years of a worldwide state of siege to medical martial law under false flag pretense of a state of emergency, those still ‘trusting the science’ of Fraudci and other fascists of the biosecurity state, repeating and promoting its lies, might be considered too far gone, whether by purse or persuasion, as to be reachable with reason. The real and greater suffering and deaths, or murders, of people from prison lockdowns in the name of public health to experimental poisons pushed as vaccines upon human lab rats simply don’t exist for these compliant accomplices to the unprecedented historical horror of global genocide.

    China recently re-imposed lockdowns, the severest yet, particularly in Shanghai, the most populous city on the planet, with people continuously confined to their homes, or cells, without access to food and other resources. Riots and rebellion, suicidal leaps from skyscrapers, cries of desperation and despair in the night sky (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxMTYU71O5M&list=PLJWhoC1u4KmCzAnyvPW7PtivuSbruLdRJ&index=236) signal the hell on earth we are heading toward should we keep going along with what’s going down.

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