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AEA Research Highlights

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Apr 4, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has already significantly widened wealth and income disparities around the world. 

Poorer populations suffered higher rates of infection, and workers in low paying jobs were the most impacted by widespread shutdowns.

But not all pandemics have had the same effect.

In a paper in the Journal of Economic Literature, author Guido Alfani looks at the history of pandemics stretching back to the medieval Black Death to examine how factors like mortality rates and the response by wealthy elites affected gaps between the rich and poor.

Alfani says that the lessons from previous pandemics like cholera in the 19th century offer hope for how public policy responses can actually have a meaningful impact on reducing inequality over the long run.

Alfani spoke with Chris Fleisher about how the history of global pandemics can help inform responses to COVID-19 and efforts to address the root causes of poverty. Music in the audio by Podington Bear.