May 26, 2021
I received an article by David Leonhardt about the growing “class gap” in the ongoing vaccinations in my NY Times daily ticker. We hear about two different demographics that are hesitant to receive the Covid-19 vaccine: Republican voters and racial minorities, and especially Black and Latino Americans. The two groups seem to have different motivation. The Republican attitude is connected to a general skepticism of government and science. The Black and Hispanic attitude stems from the US legacy of providing substandard medical treatment, and outright harm, to minorities. Leonhardt noted while these ideas have some truth, they also obscure the fact that many unvaccinated Republicans and minorities are also working-class families. There is a huge divide based on the class gap in vaccination behavior.
I worked for two different agencies in California at the turn of the millennium who explored this same phenomenon. Both were trying to connect with the “other side” on current issues. One was more liberal and the other more conservative, but they both came to the same conclusion. The divide that separated people had less and less to do with race and ethnicity and more from differences in education and wealth. This was a trend sociologist had been tracking for the last decade (at that time). It always amazes me when “new” discoveries are shared that have been around for 20 years.
The story here is bigger than Covid-19. Anne Case and Angus Deaton published a book in 2020 called Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, that documented the growing class divide in many areas of American life. Income and wealth have grown more quickly over recent decades for people with a college degree than for people without one. Marriage, church attendance, and self-reported happiness have declined more for the working class than the professional class, while chronic pain, obesity, and alcohol consumption have increased. Case and Deaton argue that behind these trends is a “coming apart” of the working-class experience. For many workers, life lacks the structure, status and meaning it once had. While the divide continues, education has become more important than race.
Thoughts: Leonhardt’s article ended with possible strategies to convince people to get vaccinated. It also stated the illness and death that occurs in coming months is likely to aggravate the extreme inequality in the US. This misses the bigger issue of the widening divide between the haves and have-nots. During the pandemic, the working class has struggled to survive and seen many of the jobs they previously held disappear. Large corporations and persons in the top 10% of income have seen record profits and fluid job markets. While capitalism can offer a solution, it is only achievable if government makes it profitable to do the right thing. There is money to be made in climate, infrastructure, and health care. Those are also the areas of greatest divide. Until we decide to make equal opportunity a reality, we will continue to divide. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.