COVID-19 has exacerbated economic inequities, experts warn

screen capture of the 4 panelists during the webinar

Looking at COVID-19’s economic impact

Khalilah Brown-Dean, associate professor of political science and senior director for inclusive excellence, top left, discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the economically vulnerable with Will Ginsberg, CEO of Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, bottom left, Erik Clemons, CEO of ConnCAT, top right, and Arunan Arulampalam, JD '14, Deputy Commissioner of State of Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, bottom right, during "The Way Forward" President's Speaker Series.

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n these uncertain times, it's important to look at how the pandemic affects those who are economically vulnerable and remember that social distancing is a privilege and luxury that many may not have, said two panelists in the presidential speaker series, "The Way Forward."

Khalilah Brown-Dean, associate professor of political science and senior director for inclusive excellence, began the discussion by quoting a Commencement address by Arunan Arulampalam, JD '14, the now deputy commissioner of the State of Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, warning that they were entering an increasingly anxious world and many Americans believe that the future America will be worse than the one that they inherited.

Arulampalam stressed the importance of looking at the pandemic through a lens that emphasizes the very real concerns that will impact people for generations.

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“I see my neighbors in multi-generational housing units; they're small and cooped up and I know with my kids how difficult it is to keep them cooped up in my house,” said Arulampalam. “The impact of that for folks who have never really had meaningful health care. The anxiety that that produces for folks who have been working two or three jobs just to make ends meet, and now one or two or all of those jobs are not available, and they're wondering if unemployment benefits are going to run out.”

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Screen capture of Erik Clemons

Erik Clemons

The challenges of COVID-19 didn't arise overnight, Erik Clemons, CEO of ConnCAT, explained. He said ConnCAT has pivoted its efforts from workforce development and arts programming to address the immediate needs of people who are feeling even more uncertainty due to the pandemic.

"We knew that the people were suffering already because of poverty and because of race," said Clemons. "We launched a fund; we raised about $580,000 in about nine days to do direct service to folks who were struggling."

This fund addressed needs such as food insecurity, electricity and clothing — $360,000 of that has already been distributed to more than 700 families in the past four months.

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Brown-Dean summarized a statement from the Community Foundation that was about how our society needs to address what it calls the "dual pandemics" of COVID-19 and racism that have deepened and concentrated economic vulnerability in communities.

Will Ginsberg, CEO of Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, said that it has reinforced some of the fundamental dynamics in our community around economic vulnerability and economic mobility.

"The health and the economic impacts on people of color are dramatically more severe than on the population in general," said Ginsberg. "At some level, we shouldn't be surprised by that given the history of race and racial oppression and disadvantage in our country, but COVID-19 has worked it out with a clarity I think that perhaps wasn't there before — one that needed to be brought out. At the same time, COVID-19 has created a whole new class of vulnerable in our community."

Screen capture of Will Ginsberg

Will Ginsberg

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“The federal government has stepped forward,” Ginsberg said. “But that said, I would quickly say that it has not been focused specifically on the vulnerable populations that we are talking about.”

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Brown-Dean said that one common theme emphasized by both of the panelists was that many people romanticize the idea of going back to "normal."

"What I've heard from you is the affirmation that normal was not working for large groups of people across our state and really across our nation," said Brown-Dean. "As we think about this upcoming election and what it will mean, I want you to think about how we've learned about the challenges and diversity that exists within communities through this pandemic."

Brown-Dean brought the discussion to a close by asking the panelists what gives them hope.

As a self-proclaimed optimist by nature, Ginsberg said that he believes in the young people of this country and the system created over 200 years ago. He said he believes that the American people want to move forward and that there has been positive momentum for fundamental change in meeting the needs of people and changing race relations.

Screen capture of Khalilah Brown-Dean

Khalilah Brown-Dean

“I’m hopeful that the positive energy for change will prevail,” said Ginsberg.

Video Recap

Watch the on-demand recording

The Way Forward President's Speaker Series: The Impact of the Pandemic on the Economically Vulnerable video

Additional Events

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The Way Forward

Presidential speaker series

The presidential speaker series is designed to connect members of the university community with leaders, visionaries and established professionals from across the country. “The Way Forward” will offer a virtual forum to showcase and share innovative ideas and critical thinking about some of the most current and pressing challenges facing society.