In terms of federal policy, the recent signing of the second CARES Act will bring welcome support to individuals and small businesses, but more assistance will be needed for state and local governments, including public schools, which have suffered enormous job losses due to the pandemic.
COVID is not the only economic issue in Clark County. The Board of Commissioners recently identified institutional racism as a public health crisis. Here are some examples of how institutional racism is evident in the county economy (all data pre-COVID).The average wage for African Americans, Native Americans, Latinx, Pacific Islander and multi-racial workers was 20 to 30 percent below the average for all workers—a condition that has persisted going back to 1990 (when the dataset first became available). The median income for African American households was 68 percent of the median for all householders; for Latinx households, it was 75 percent. Only 34 percent of Latinx, 44 percent of African American, and 52 percent of Native American householders were homeowners, versus 66 percent for all households. We have no measures of other forms of wealth (chiefly, financial wealth), but these are undoubtedly skewed even worse. These measures have lasting significance. As a group, the next generation of white and Asian-American children start life and transition into adulthood with more resources and economic opportunity, enabling them on average to afford a college education and buy a home.
Of course, there are also large and growing disparities in income and wealth within racial groups as well. One source of these disparities has been the massive increase in CEO pay, made possible in part by the growing monopolization in key industries, and enhanced further by the opaqueness of our financial system. The recent lawsuits filed by states and the Department of Justice to hold some of the tech giants accountable is a welcome trend, as is the recent law passed by Congress to outlaw shell corporations. Even so, the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” has widened during the pandemic.
Finally, the biggest threat to our economy—climate change—continued to make itself known in 2020, with growing and obvious impacts on our lives. While carbon emissions dropped this past year due to the economic downturn, they have already risen to their previous dangerously high levels in China. Let’s hope COVID will not distract us from taking decisive action going forward.
So, here’s the call for 2021: a slow recovery that could accelerate in the latter half of the year, depending on virus distribution and acceptance; a recovery that, barring major policy changes, will perpetuate inequities and continue to send us towards a climate reckoning.