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The impact of COVID-19 on the economy

The pandemic has shone a light on a deeply divided workplace: the highly paid, salaried graduate elites on one side, and the workers in dead-end jobs, lacking basic rights or entitlements, on the other. Those who are able to work from home (on average richer individuals) are significantly less likely to be furloughed or lose their jobs. Indeed many middle-class salaried earners will be accumulating wealth, via forced saving from not spending on the likes of expensive holidays or restaurants.

The impact of COVID-19 on the economy

The huge shocks paralyzing the global economy are hitting low income (and younger earners) the hardest (Adams-Prassl, 2020). In excess of one million people have newly applied for universal credit, the basic benefit for working-age people. Moreover, as with earlier recessions and experience of unemployment, the COVID-19-induced downturn is likely to have long term scarring effects – companies put out of business for good, employees facing permanent layoffs.

In truth, we were already heading towards a reckoning. Young people growing up today were facing declining absolute mobility, meaning falling real wages, fewer opportunities, and the growing specter of downward social mobility (Elliot Major and Machin, 2018). We may be applauding NHS workers for their priceless work battling to save lives. But for too long we have underpaid our key public sector workers – teachers, nurses, and carers, among many others. Britain has become a fragmented country, defined by economic, geographical, and political divides.

Polling in the United States meanwhile suggests that COVID-19 will make class divides wider: poorer people are more likely to have the underlying conditions of diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) that make them vulnerable to the virus and are less likely to adhere to social distancing measures (Reeves and Rothwell, 2020). Minorities have suffered disproportionately. The same is almost certainly true in Britain as well. Poorer people are more likely to do the jobs that make them vulnerable to the virus.

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