With luxury developments squeezing out affordable housing, one in four U.S. renters were already handing more than half their paycheck over to landlords. Today, with millions of people suddenly getting no paycheck at all, the housing crisis has exploded.
Fifty-two years ago this week, the day before he was assassinated, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out in support of sanitation workers striking in Memphis. Said Dr. King, in one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history: “The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest.”

Just last month, sanitation workers in Pittsburgh showed how little has changed. Public officials at every level of government continue to be less than fair and honest in their dealings with the workers Americans now more than ever see as truly “essential,” the people whose undervalued labor keeps our society runnng at our most vulnerable moments.

In Pittsburgh, undervalued sanitation workers walked off the job, demanding better coronavirus protective gear and hazard pay. They offer just one example of the growing wave of organizing now sweeping across the nation. We’ve got more such examples in this week’s issue.

Chuck Collins, for the Institute for Policy Studies Inequality.org team
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Amazon workers hold strike signs while social distancing
Make Digital Platforms a Real Sharing Economy
With the coronavirus continuing to spread, our corporate execs are moving to take further advantage of an already precarious gig workforce. Want to avoid crowded grocery stores, they pitch us? Instacart has you covered! Can’t go to your favorite restaurant? We have an app for that, too! Those at the top end are celebrating the rise of an economy reliant on precarious work that serves their interests, both as investors and consumers. The antidote? The rest of us need to work with one another to build a solidarity-based economy, and we can start by supporting the demands of those currently working in the gig economy. Another digital economy is possible. Bama Athreya has the details about more equitable alternatives.
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exterior of Hahnemann University Hospital
Forget Medication. Profits Await in Gentrification.
Philadelphia needs hospital beds. Philadelphia has a shut-down hospital. Why not just reopen the hospital? The owner — private equity king Joel Freedman — just happens to want nearly $1 million a month in rent. Actually, Freedman wants a lot more out of his Hahnemann University Hospital, a facility that’s served low-income families for generations. He bought the hospital in 2018, closed it last year, and is apparently hoping to gentrify the hospital property into luxury condos. In the meantime, critics charge, he’s holding the city hostage with his rental demands. Freedman insists he’s offering Hahnemann at a rent “substantially below market cost.” But he stands to make a killing thanks to a little-noticed real estate depreciation provision in the corona relief act enacted last month. Officials in Philadelphia have broken off rental negotiations with Freedman. He’s looking, says Brian Abernathy, Philly’s COVID-19 coordinator, “at how to turn an asset that is earning no revenue into an asset that earns some revenue and isn’t thinking through what the impacts are on public health.”
illustration of person riding a bike through a neighborhood of high-rises and single family homes
Rent Zero Now, Homes Guarantee for the Future
Long before the coronavirus crisis, ordinary Americans were having trouble making rent. With luxury developments squeezing out affordable housing, one in four U.S. renters were already handing more than half their paycheck over to landlords. Today, with millions of people suddenly getting no paycheck at all, the housing crisis has exploded. An entire $1,200 stimulus check wouldn’t cover the U.S. median cost of a two-bedroom apartment. Some cities and states have declared temporary eviction bans, but more needs to be done. A new group, Rent Strike 2020, is calling on governors to cancel all rent, residential mortgage, and utility payments for two months. If they refuse, the group aims to organize a nationwide rent strike on May 1. People’s Action, a national network of grassroots groups, is also demanding an immediate zero rent policy. At the same time, they’re building support for a permanent solution: a Homes Guarantee that would ensure everyone has the right to safe, sustainable, and affordable housing. Check out their new video and action agenda.
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David statue wearing a surgical mask
No Fennel in the Sausage, No $600 for the Jobless
In plagues past and pandemic present, the wealthy always seem to exude the same contempt for those without wealth. We see that dynamic in the horrific plague that swept into 17th-century Florence, and today we’re witnessing the same callous disregard for working people in the Senate GOP opposition to robust coronavirus benefits for Americans left unemployed. Inequality.org co-editor Sam Pizzigati has more.
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This week on Inequality.org 

Brian Wakamo, Athletes Are Supporting Stadium Workers. Why Aren’t More Owners? The owners of sports teams make billions off low-wage stadium workers. With games suspended, those workers deserve help.

Phil Mattera, The Rap Sheets of the Big Ventilator Producers. Many ventilator manufacturers have a history of government contracting and kickback scandals.

Elsewhere on the Web

Sam Pizzigati, Bailing Out the Rich — Again, The Progressive. In a deeply unequal America, our democracy clearly has a problem legislating emergency relief without further enriching the already rich.

Chauncey Alcorn, Why the coronavirus crisis will expand America's racial wealth gap, CNN Business. We can prevent that expansion.

Jennifer Kingson, The rich pull up the drawbridges, Axios. The wealthiest Americans have found lush places to ride out the pandemic.

Francine Prose, Social distancing? Working-class people don’t have that luxury, Guardian. The rich shelter in comfort, the essential ride crowded subway cars.

Colin Gordon, Corona: The Inequality Virus, Jacobin. The coronavirus pandemic affects everyone, but not everyone equally.

Shuja Haider, Covid-19 Shows America’s Class Divide Is Untenable, Nation. The richest among us are not only securing exclusive access to medical care. They're plotting their escape.

James Kwak, COVID-19: Winners and Losers, Baseline Scenario. Private equity kingpins will be big winners in the corona aftermath as they snap up troubled small businesses for a song.

Hadley Freeman, Billionaires, please back off – we can't all self-isolate on a giant yacht, Guardian. Not everyone can ride out the crisis like our rich.

David Brancaccio and Daniel Shin, How a debt jubilee could help the U.S. avert economic depression, Marketplace. Time to resurrect an ancient tradition.

Sally Jenkins, The USOPC asked Congress for money. Congress should respond by tearing it down, Washington Post. Top execs in the U.S. Olympic bureaucracy are making as much as $1.4 million a year.

Marshall Steinbaum, Thomas Piketty Takes On the Ideology of Inequality, Boston Review. The overarching message of the French economist’s new inequality opus: Things can be different because they have been different.

Michael Oghia, ‘The Experiment of Development’: the source of our progress has become the source of our downfall, Open Democracy. International development cooperation has failed to address the increasing inequalities that exist globally.

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