Welcome to the Coronavirus Class War

Americans who make less money are more likely to still be physically on the job as “essential” workers, as my colleague Annie Lowrey wrote this week. But they are also more likely to have been hit financially by lockdowns. A Federal Reserve survey released this week found that nearly 40 percent of households making less than $40,000 a year have seen at least one job loss this year—compared with just 19 percent of those making $40,000 to $100,000, and 13 percent of those making more than $100,000. Two-thirds of people who lost jobs or saw their hours cut said they couldn’t pay the bills for the next month.

Trump and other Republicans have argued that the nation must reopen, despite the risks of increased infections or additional waves of COVID-19, because of the damage being done to the economy. “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” the president tweeted in March.

Yet these politicians are not just out of step with the population overall; they may actually be more out of step with the workers feeling the most pain. A Washington Post/Ipsos poll released this week found that while 75 percent of the population agrees that “the U.S. should keep trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus, even if that means keeping many businesses closed,” laid-off workers are more likely (79 percent) to support keeping businesses closed.

A separate Pew survey generated a similar set of findings. Fully a third of those who have lost their jobs or seen their wages cut supported tighter restrictions in their local areas, compared with only a quarter of those who hadn’t. In other words, the workers suffering most financially are more willing to sacrifice for the health of the nation than those who are better off.

No single poll explains these divides, but it’s possible to make some conjectures. For one thing, low-income workers may be more likely to work jobs that put them at higher risk of getting sick, because they have to deal with lots of other people closely. The same Post/Ipsos poll found that six in 10 Americans who are still going to work are worried about getting someone in their household sick. The numbers are even higher (seven in 10) among black and Hispanic Americans who are still going to work.

Minorities have especially good reason to be wary of getting ill. While the data are still incomplete, evidence shows that black Americans are overrepresented among people hospitalized with COVID-19, and both black and Hispanic people have seen much higher death rates than white people. African Americans and Hispanics are also more likely to be poor than the average American, which means they may be more worried about the economic effects of getting sick if they are uninsured or underinsured. It stands to reason that these people might be more supportive of steps that would limit the disease’s spread.

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