It’s a well-known fact that lower income communities often suffer more direly when disaster strikes. There are many different factors, all stemming from the economic and labor exploitation and political negligence that people living in poverty face.
Because disaster-prone land, like floodplains, is often cheaper, it is more often marketed to people with lower incomes. Texas A&M research shows that between 2000 and 2012 populations near the coast grew nearly twice as fast as the national average. The proportion of socially vulnerable people, including the elderly and people working in low-wage service jobs, also rose, worsening the impact of the recent hurricanes.
People in lower-income communities often have less of a political voice and are therefore a lesser priority as policy makers are developing emergency protocol. Individuals and families with lower incomes also may not have the work flexibility to be able to attend community preparedness meetings.
Also, low wage jobs have the reputation of exploiting workers for their labor, which can manifest itself in threatening to fire employees for leaving “early” to evacuate or refusing to close during inclement weather.
People with lower incomes may not have the resources to purchase storm-proofing materials or to be able to miss work in order to evacuate. Elderly people may not have the physical ability to evacuate or to do laborious storm proofing.
People who have decreased resources also tend to have more local social circles, meaning they often don’t have friends or family members to stay with if they evacuate, so the price of evacuation increases to cover hotel fees.
The aftermath of states of emergencies, including decreased assets or little to no insurance, can push economically struggling families to destitution faster than middle to higher income families. As we evaluate what the state of emergency meant to Georgians this week, we should also evaluate how we can lessen the impact on Georgians with lower incomes or living in poverty.