TAMPA, Fla. — Working-class Americans were five times more likely to die from COVID-19 than people in higher socioeconomic positions in the first year of the pandemic, according to a study.
The staggering discrepancy was uncovered in a study of around 69,000 US coronavirus victims aged 25 to 64 who died in 2020. It was conducted by a group of researchers including epidemiologist Jason Salemi of the University of South Florida.
The authors of the study found that 68% of the deaths they examined occurred among people considered to be in a low socioeconomic position, defined as blue-collar workers whose education ended in high school. Only about 12% of deaths occurred among people in high socioeconomic positions, defined as those with at least a bachelor’s degree.
The explorers said The majority of the adult working class in the United States was employed in manual, service, or retail jobs and were unable to work remotely during the first year of the virus before vaccines became widely available in 2021.
“Our findings support the hypothesis that hazardous working conditions were a major reason for shared socioeconomic, gender, and racial/ethnic disparities in COVID-19 mortality,” the researchers wrote.
Working-class workers faced “increased risks of infection,” according to a USF summary of the study, compared to higher-paid workers who “are more likely to have fewer exposure risks, remote work opportunities, paid sick leave, and better access to quality health care.”
The report comes as Florida and several parts of the nation grapple with high levels of COVID-19 transmission caused by contagious omicron subvariants. The Tampa Bay area is considered a “high” risk of infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends wearing masks in indoor public spaces.
Although the research based on deaths that occurred in 2020 — before vaccines reduced COVID-19 mortality across the board — Salemi said He believes working-class people are still at higher risk of illness and death.
He said the study’s findings are a warning about how the pathogen can profoundly affect vulnerable communities.
The talk of “back to normal,” he said, means “very different things” to different people in the United States.
“Some people will still be in the line of fire,” Salemi said.
The question facing the country, he said, is what can be done to help working-class workers stay safe.
His solutions: improving ventilation in buildings to reduce indoor transmission; Wear quality masks indoors to reduce infection. and introduce paid sick leave so those infected can stay at home instead of spreading the virus.
The study was published in April in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The research team collected preliminary COVID-19 death data from the US National Center for Health Statistics. Deaths were included when COVID-19 was listed as an underlying or contributory cause of death. The center uses educational attainment to measure socioeconomic status.
The study found that the age-adjusted COVID-19 death rate for working-class adults was 72.2 deaths per 100,000. For those in high socioeconomic positions, the rate was 14.6 deaths per 100,000.
The researchers discovered other differences:
- The age-adjusted COVID-19 death rate for working-class Hispanic men was more than 27 times higher than the death rate for white women in higher socioeconomic jobs.
- Working-class black men had a death rate nearly 20 times higher than the death rate of white women graduating from four-year college.
- The death rate for working-class black women was about 13 times the rate for white women with at least a bachelor’s degree.
- Working-class white men had a mortality rate about four times higher than white men in high socioeconomic positions.
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The COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 years and older and booster shots for eligible recipients will be administered at doctor’s offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores and public vaccination centers. Many allow appointments to be booked online. To find a location near you:
Find a site: Visit Vaccines.gov to find vaccination centers in your zip code.
More help: Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Helpline.
- Phone: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish and other languages.
- TTY: 888-720-7489
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