A Class Divide

It’s no secret that, as with most calamities, the lockdowns arising out of fears about the CCP virus have been much harder on the poor and the middle class than on the well to do; the bottom half have much thinner safety nets. At the extremes, the rich now contend mostly with boredom at their country homes while many of those who have little are unemployed and broke, while effectively trapped in tiny living spaces. As others have remarked, we may all be in this together but we aren’t in the same boat.  

Although we Americans take pride in the fact that ours is, if not a free-of-class-distinctions society, at least one where there is considerable fluidity over time in the social and economic class to which an individual may belong, the fact that some face this storm in yachts and others in terribly leaky dinghies will surprise no one.

What I find more interesting – and only partially explained by the simple economic class distinction – is a different divide between those who wish to end the lockdowns immediately, and those who (like Dr. Fauci) want to wait until there’s a clean medical solution to the virus-related health concerns.

People whose incomes depend on their physical presence – carpenters, plumbers and other tradesmen, restaurant workers, most sales people, factory workers, farmers, truckers and, of course, “essential workers” – are just about all (with the exception of certain highly paid healthcare workers) on one side of the reopening argument; people who could be broadly classified as knowledge workers, those whose bodies are largely irrelevant to the economic value of the services they provide – bankers, lawyers, accountants, tech people, entertainers, the media, etc. – on the other. In addition to generally having more money, the latter group can work remotely and its members probably aren’t at much risk of losing their jobs. Yes, the market’s off by about 20%, but they’re confident it’ll come back.

(Ignored in this simple bifurcation of the workforce into physical and knowledge classes are those for whom work isn’t an issue at all – either because they’re members of the permanently unemployed underclass, or because they’re rich, retired or unfireable – in the final case probably because they work for the government).    

In addition to explaining the two group’s differing attitudes about the lockdowns, and (generally) differences in relative wealth, the knowledge worker/physical presence worker distinction, with some exceptions, describes one of our country’s deepest social/political divides. In ordinary circumstances, most of those in the physical presence category are either ignored or considered Deplorables by those in the knowledge worker group. One of the happier effects of the virus is likely to be an enhanced appreciation of the vital, and sometimes courageous, roles played by physical workers, especially “essential workers”, by those who might previously have barely noticed or disdained them. It turns out that all of us rely absolutely on truck drivers, store clerks and the people who make toilet paper – and now we know it.

The great majority of knowledge workers, while discomfited by the lockdowns, are financially and professionally secure, and more worried about the health risks of “prematurely” ending the lockdowns than they are about other costs and risks of the present situation. Physical presence workers, understandably, look at the balance of these factors very differently; many of them are desperate.

Each group can be more understanding of the other’s worries – but I don’t think it’ll surprise many CH readers to learn that my bias is that, especially now that thirty million Americans have lost their jobs and the curve has been flattened, it’s time to get the country moving again.

M.H. Johnston       

2 comments to A Class Divide

  • Anonymous  says:

    Verbose? Maybe she was right. Still, thank you.

  • Anonymous  says:

    Good piece. I am back to this. If my son were a lobsterman and he had to ask his mother each day if it was safe to go out on the sea, he would starve. Is not each of us capable of some level of responsibility? I am driving down a two lane road… and there is a real potential that that she who is in the opposing lane will veer into me. GET BACK TO WORK!

Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>