The Class and Race Divides of Covid-19

15 May 2020  –  Written by Alex Mason

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to create havoc across the world, destroying peoples lives at large, but the repercussions of Coronavirus have also exacerbated the class and race divide between the haves and have-nots. By using data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the UK, and the Pew Research survey from the United States, we explore the socio-economic impact of Covid-19 on the class divide and the inequalities embedded within society. 

In the United Kingdom, figures from the ONS show a class divide between those with professional occupations and those with low skilled jobs. Their analysis signifies that those with low-skilled jobs were more likely to die from Covid-19 than those professionals who are able to make their living through the comfort of working from home. The ONS statistics highlight that men in low-skilled occupations, such as taxi drivers, bus drivers, chefs and care workers experienced the highest death toll in the UK. Conversely, people with professional occupations are more able to escape the rush hour traffic by working from the comfort of their home. 

Similar evidence of a class divide can be found in the US According to Pew Research, the impact of Covid-19 is more negative for lower-income adults. Their research found that, overall, 43% of US adults now say that they, or someone they know, has lost their job, or taken a pay reduction due to the pandemic. Furthermore, these low-income groups are more susceptible to an economic fallout, and are less prepared to deal with the repercussions of job losses and pay reductions. The divide between low-income and upper-income adults highlights serious differences, with only 23% of low-income adults able to use savings to help alleviate the impacts of Covid-19, compared to 75% of upper-income adults.

Simply put, Coronavirus is a class issue. The spread of the virus has a larger impact on those in poorer communities, targeting those with pre-existing health issues, most notably respiratory problems. Across the world, these health issues tend to impact people from low socio-economic backgrounds and poor communities. The relation between poverty and poor health are inextricably linked. However, the causes tend to be rooted in various political, social, and economic injustices, of which, Covid-19 exacerbates. 

Racial Disparity 

Across the world, the consequences of job losses have a negative impact on low-income adults and, in some cases, certain ethnic groups. Evidence in the UK suggests BAME groups are more likely to be impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, and the same is true for Hispanic communities in the US according to Pew Research data. Their study highlights that 61% of Hispanic adults say they, or someone in their household, have lost their job or taken a pay reduction due to Covid-19. This is in contrast to 38% of white people, who have overall reported less of an economic hit due to the pandemic. 

ONS data has also identified an ethnic divide; black people are four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than white people. The analysis from ONS highlights the various impacts Covid-19 has on communities’ health, wealth, and education. From a socio-economic perspective, BAME communities are highly exposed to poverty, low-paid work and thus, Covid-19. Moreover, BAME communities are more likely to live in multigenerational housing conditions which creates higher risk for the spread of the virus. This can be echoed by government statistics from the UK, which suggest 30% of the UK Bangladeshi population currently live in what is considered to be overcrowded housing, compared to just 2% of the white British population. Consequently, ethnic minorities around the world are more susceptible to the spread of Covid-19 due to the cramped living conditions they live in. Covid-19 not only exacerbates the class and racial inequalities embedded in contemporary society, but also stirs up a toxic environment, which has spilled over into “a tsunami of hate and xenophobia” according to the UN Secretary, Antonio Guterres.

While Europe and the rest of the world embark on easing restrictions for society, the worry is that this could further damage the divide between lower-income and middle/upper-income adults. The message across EU member states is that those who can return to work should do so, in small numbers, and those who can work from home should stay put. Avoiding public transport is easy enough for high earners, but for those who do not have access to a vehicle, and low-income adults who need public transport to get them to work, this is far more difficult, thus exposing poor communities to the pandemic.

Actively encouraging citizens to return to work will have a disproportionately negative effect on those low-income communities who are forced to the exposure of Covid-19, most notably social care workers, construction workers, taxi drivers and cleaners. In contrast, those with professional occupations – typically middle and upper-class adults, will have the luxury of working at home and the peace of mind that they are more protected behind the algorithms of their daily Zoom meetings. 

Covid-19 poses many issues for governments around the world, but the underlying issues of this pandemic ultimately exacerbate the inequality of class and race within society. While governments explore various economic measures to reduce the impact of Covid-19 on the economy, the issues of class and racial inequality continue to be exacerbated as a result of this deadly pandemic. Our understanding of the virus may well be strengthened by scientific and academic research, but it is integral that we also recognise the repercussions this is having on society at large. 

While the connotations of Covid-19 are ultimately negative, there are also opportunities to reshape society and reform the economy so that everyone shares the same opportunities of socio-economic success, regardless of class, race, and gender. This pandemic is a chance for us to highlight that returning to normal is not normal in itself, and that we need to truly reform the way capitalism operates in order to eradicate the social injustices that continue to haunt society. Covid-19 will be defeated eventually – so too must class and racial injustices.

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Recommended citation:

Mason, A. (2020) The Class and Race Divides of Covid-19, IDRN, 15 May. Available at: [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].