Coronavirus And Class

The new coronavirus has turned life upside down around the globe, confining millions to their homes, putting people out of work and hospitalising hundreds of thousands.

But while the impact has been felt widely, it has not necessarily been felt evenly.

The New York Times says a “white-collar quarantine” has emerged, with divisions in wealth creating “a gulf between rich and poor in coping with disruptions”.

So how has the virus exposed the differences between the haves and have-nots?

The Financial Times says the coronavirus crisis “has highlighted how much of daily life and the real economy” is reliant on the lowest-paid workers, exacerbating “class friction” in Europe and beyond.

“Nurses, shop assistants, truck drivers, farm labourers [and] refuse collectors” have all been unable to stop working during the outbreak, the paper notes, while white-collar workers have been able to quarantine themselves safely at home.

Speaking to the paper, a bakery worker near Paris, Eva, said that she was “appalled to work in these conditions”. Eva, who also has childcare responsibilities, added: “I have a mask which doesn’t protect me enough and I’m doing extra hours already because there’s a shortage of employees.

“I don’t have the choice because if I refuse to work, I’ll lose my job, but there are some days when I am really tempted to take sick leave.”

In the UK, The Guardian reports, a study has found low-paid women are at a higher risk of exposure to Covid-19 as they are more likely to be in jobs such as social care, nursing and pharmacy.

Out of 3.2 million workers employed in the highest-risk roles, as many as a million are among the lowest paid, according to Autonomy, an independent economics think-tank.

“This pandemic has exposed deep inequalities at the heart of our economy,” said Will Stronge, the director of Autonomy.

“This study has shown not only that many of these occupations are at a high risk of exposure to the Covid-19 virus, but that they are often paid at poverty wages and are carried out overwhelmingly by women. It is about time we pay these workers properly for the valuable work they do.”

While, as the Daily Express notes, the middle class may experience damage to the value of “investments, pension pots and house values”, the report shows that poorer people are more likely to “regularly come into contact with diseases”, putting them at greater risk of illness.

The same theme is occurring across Europe, with the FT reporting that in Spain trade unions have complained that postal workers and supermarket staff are at a greater risk.

The Spanish deputy prime minister and leader of the radical left Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias, has referred to “a war that doesn’t distinguish between territories, although sadly it does distinguish between social classes”.

Drawing a comparison with the 1918 influenza pandemic, Derek Thompson, an economics writer at The Atlantic, notes that “like 102 years ago, this wave of the pandemic will almost certainly disproportionately punish the poor”.

In the US, a recent NPR/PBS poll found that by 14 March, 18% of people said they had already been let go by their employers or had their hours reduced. This figure rose among Americans making less than $50,000 (£40,360), with the figure spiking at 25%.

As the pandemic spreads, Thompson writes, it could “supercharge inequality in the short term”, targeting “industries where workers are most vulnerable and have the least protection”.

This is mirrored by the World Economic Forum, which notes that the coronavirus outbreak is likely to hit industries propped up by low-income workers hard. “The reality for their low-income employees could be even worse,” it adds.

As NYT reports, across the US and beyond, “there is a creeping consciousness that despite talk of national unity, not everyone is equal in times of emergency.

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