Extreme Weather Hits Poor the Hardest, Report Finds
Hurricane Sandy brought devastated the lives of millions of Americans and is estimated to have cost $60 billion in damage. It didn't, however, impact all people equally. The Center for American Progress released a report analyzing how extreme weather catastrophes resulting from global warming, like Sandy, harm middle class and poverty stricken Americans more than others:
- Floods damaged households in affected counties had average household incomes of $44,547 annually - 14 percent less than the U.S. median income
- Drought and heat waves affected counties with households that earned an average of $49,340 annually - roughly 5 percent less than the U.S. median income
- Wildfires, tornadoes, and severe thunderstorms devastated areas with households that earned an average of $50,352 annually - 3 percent less than the U.S. median income
On top of those devastating numbers, the young people in the region (and the Millennial generation as a whole) face a pay gap compared to older workers, meaning they are more likely to fall into the middle- and low-income groups that natural disasters hit the hardest.
According to Forbes, a 2009 study found that nearly one-fifth of employees polled, ages 21 to 30 years old, had experienced a pay cut since 2008, and 14 percent had been laid off. Of the Baby Boomers surveyed, only 8 percent had lost their jobs in the same year.
That means that Millennials who fall victim to extreme weather conditions and disasters are less likely to be able to prepare for and fully recover from disasters like Sandy. The Atlantic’s David Rohde covered the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy in New York City, and he described the gross income inequality seen in the city:
“In the Union Square area, New York's privileged - including myself - could have dinner, order a food delivery and pick up supplies an hour or two before Sandy made landfall. The cooks, cashiers and hotel workers who stayed at work instead of rushing home made that possible. They were a diverse group. Some were young people in their twenties. Others were middle-aged Americans who had never landed white-collar jobs. Most were immigrants.”
The irony of course, as Jorge Rivas from Colorlines points out, is that many of those who had to "choose" between working long shifts at likely non-unionized and low-protection and minimum wage jobs over heading for shelter will also likely be charged to clean up the mess—but won't be entitled to receive the same relief aid Americans enjoy, if they're undocumented.
For undocumented immigrants who belong to mixed status families, there is a way to get help.Only one family member needs to be eligible to apply for FEMA subsidies to qualify an entire household for assistance. Undocumented parents may apply on behalf of their children if they're minors and are here with legal resident status.
Addressing the skewed way disaster-relief is distributed, based on socioeconomic status, is just part of the answer and as the report concludes, a holistic look at how we prepare for and prevent extreme weather events is also key. If we work to improve infrastructure, limit carbon emissions to slow global warming, and increase the availability and affordability of flood insurance for middle- and low-income households we can mitigate the damage storms like Sandy can cause on the lives and homes of communities across the nation and abroad.
Sydney Hofferth is a Communications Intern for Campus Progress. You can follow her on twitter at @squidhoff10.