From the Left



COVID-19 has created a new kind of class divide

By Robert B. Reich, Tribune Content Agency on

The pandemic is putting America's deepening class divide into stark relief. Four classes are emerging.

The Remotes: These are professional, managerial and technical workers -- an estimated 35 percent of the workforce -- who are putting in long hours at their laptops, Zooming into conferences, scanning electronic documents and collecting about the same pay as before the crisis.

Many are bored or anxious, but they're well off compared with the three other classes.

The Essentials: They make up about 30 percent of the workforce, including nurses, home care and child care workers, farm workers, food processors, truck drivers, warehouse and transit workers, drug store employees, sanitation workers, police officers, firefighters and the military.

Too many Essentials lack adequate protective gear, paid sick leave, health insurance and child care (which is especially important now that schools are shuttered). They also deserve hazard pay.

Their vulnerability is generating a wave of worker activism at businesses such as Instacart, Amazon, Walmart and Whole Foods. Mass transit workers are organizing work stoppages.


Donald Trump's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has the legal authority to require private employers to provide essential workers with protective gear. Don't hold your breath.

The Unpaid: They're an even larger group that the unemployed -- whose ranks could soon reach 25 percent, the same as in the Great Depression. Some of the unpaid are furloughed or have used up their paid leave. So far in this crisis, 43 percent of adults report that they or someone in their household has lost jobs or pay, according to the Pew Research Center.

An estimated 9.2 million have lost their employer-provided health insurance.

Many of these jobs had been in personal services that can't be done remotely, such as retail, restaurant and hospitality work. But as consumers rein in spending, layoffs are spreading to news organizations, tech companies, consumer-goods manufacturers.


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