The COVID-19 crisis is now widely seen as the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression. In January, the IMF expected global income to grow 3 percent; it is now forecast to fall 3 percent, much worse than during the Great Recession of 2008-09. Behind this dire statistic is an even grimmer possibility: if past pandemics are any guide, the toll on poorer and vulnerable segments of society will be several times worse. Indeed, a recent poll of top economists found that the vast majority felt the COVID-19 pandemic will worsen inequality, in part through its disproportionate impact on low-skilled workers.
Our evidence supports concerns about the adverse distributional impacts of pandemics. We find that major epidemics in this century have raised income inequality and hurt employment prospects of those with only a basic education while scarcely affecting employment of people with advanced degrees.
We focus on five major events—SARS (2003), H1N1 (2009), MERS (2012), Ebola (2014) and Zika (2016)—and trace out their distributional effects in the five […]