Economic Inequality and COVID-19: Research Conducted by Undergraduate Olivia Politt

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November 11, 2020


Olivia Politt is an undergraduate at the University of Iowa pursuing a social work major, a critical cultural competence certificate, and a minor in social justice. This is closely connected to the research she conducted during the summer of 2020, which focused on economic inequality and COVID-19. She investigated how the university could become “more economically sustainable during the pandemic.” 

Politt became involved in research through contacting her previous professor, Sarah Sanders, a faculty member in the School of Social Work, about starting an independent study. Sanders directed Politt to Stratis Giannakouros, the director of the office of sustainability for the University of Iowa. They had a discussion on “topics of injustice that [Pollit was] interested in,” and eventually decided on economic inequality connected to COVID-19. For this research, Politt found background information on the economic inequality history, the impact of the pandemic on inequality, and how the University should respond to this inequality. 

Pollit considers economic inequality unjust. “Seeing the rich become richer and people in poverty be buried deeper,” according to Pollit, “is completely unacceptable.” She believes that low-income people should be provided with enough resources to “not only survive, but thrive.” Prior to this research, Pollit thought “closing the income and wealth gaps would take a very long time and some very extreme governmental changes.” Her research has demonstrated, however, that there are solutions that “would not require very big changes and could be easily implemented in government policies and resources.”

Pollit is planning on continuing research surrounding economic inequality at the University of Iowa. She will be conducting “student surveys that will help define what resources students are lacking and how the university can help.” Pollit believes that further understanding and raising awareness of economic inequality is important for decreasing income and wealth disparities. She hopes that her research will “make an impact in University policies and resources.” According to Pollit, “economic inequality is something that people might feel more comfortable discussing if they know that talking about it will lead to change.”

Sustainability is “more than people think,” according to Pollit. There is a common misconception that sustainability is only connected to the environment. However, “sustainability can be connected to so many things.” Pollit considers sustainability important for that reason: “Sustainability is crucial to human survival environmentally, economically, and socially.” Pollit believes that “if these things are not maintained at a healthy level, the consequences could be dire.”