Coronavirus Pandemic Reveals Our Economic Inequality

Michael Posner
By Michael Posner
The coronavirus crisis reveals deep fissures that have long existed in our country. “Economic Dignity,” a new book by Gene Sperling, a former national economic advisor to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, provides important insight into some of those chasms related to economic inequality. In a vivid and timely way, Sperling’s book highlights the “dissonance between our nation’s labeling of workers as ‘essential’ and ‘heroes’ and their limited wages, benefits and ability to organize.”

The numbers Sperling presents tell some of this story. Almost half of nurses and home health care workers don’t have a single day of paid sick leave, and a million health care workers lack health care coverage themselves. Nurses and orderlies, including those treating Covid-19 patients, are risking their lives every day for an average hourly wage of $14.25. Home health care workers are paid much less, averaging only $11.63.

The concept of dignity is an essential element of the modern human rights landscape. The core international human rights document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948 under Eleanor Roosevelt’s bold leadership, starts with “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” as the “foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Though not an explicit part of the U.S. constitutional tradition, human dignity has been invoked as central to our conception of rights by several Supreme Court Justices in the modern era, including William Brennan and Anthony Kennedy.

Read the full Forbes article.
Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.