Inequality in higher education: the American Dream is over

Of interest:

Can College Level the Playing Field: Higher education in an unequal society’ by Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson is published by Princeton University Press. ISBN: 978-0691-171-807

No doubt, Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson, authors of Can College Level the Playing Field: Higher education in an unequal society, were pleased by United States President Joe Biden’s recent announcement that the US government was forgiving US$10,000 of student debt held by people earning less than US$125,000 and US$20,000 of debt held by those who received Pell Grants, which are made to the nation’s poorest students – and by the plan to increase Pell Grants from by over US$2,000 to US$8,670. 

Likewise, New Mexico’s recent decision to make the first two years of higher education free to its residents fits well within their recommendations. 

Their scepticism about online education, especially for less prepared students, has become a leitmotif in the news because the impact of online education during the many COVID-19-caused shutdowns of universities, colleges and schools becomes clear.

For readers outside the United States, however, the strength of this book is not so much in its common sense recommendations but, rather, in its devastating portrait of inequality – in education, achievement and incomes – in America today. 

The Gini coefficient, a figure used by political scientists to show inequality, is 0.390 in the United States. The closer a country is to 1.0, the more its economy is inequitable; accordingly South Africa’s number, 0.623, indicates it is 62% more inequitable than is the US. By contrast, Canada’s number is 0.300 while Norway’s is 0.264.

“The correlation between socioeconomic background and educational attainment has more serious implications in the United States than in many other nations because not earning a four-year college degree has more significant implications for lifetime earnings than it does elsewhere,” write Baum and McPherson. 

Baum is a non-resident senior fellow at the Center on Education Data at the Washington DC-based Urban Institute and emeritus professor of economics at Skidmore College (Saratoga Springs, New York), and McPherson is a non-resident fellow at the Urban Institute, former economics professor and former president of Macalester College (St Paul, Minnesota).

Among the other studies Baum and McPherson use to show that the “American Dream”, which holds that the next generation will climb higher on the socio-economic ladder, has become a nightmare, is the aptly named “Gatsby Curve”. 

At its top is the United States (closely followed by Britain and Italy). This visual representation is deceiving, for the higher the country is on the Gatsby Curve the less intergenerational improvement there is. At the top of the league table, so to speak, are Finland, Norway and Denmark, countries not normally associated with dynamic social change.

The higher education premium

Readers of this publication are used to seeing figures showing the premium higher education provides. The median income for a high school graduate in the United States is US$37,000 a year, or US$18 dollars an hour, a dollar over the minimum wage in New York. For someone with a bachelor degree it is US$62,000 and for those with advanced degrees it is US$82,000. 

However, as Baum and McPherson show, the benefits of higher education accrue to a minority of Americans. This fact, incidentally, is one of the reasons the Republicans oppose Biden’s plan to forgive student debt. 

95% of whites and 89% of blacks complete high school. However, only 40% of white people and 26% of black people hold bachelor degrees. Accordingly, the pay received by 60% of white people and 75% of black people are in jobs where they earn around the minimum wage.  

In fact, in reality, the income of black people is even worse than it appears. For the “median earnings of black 35- to 44-year-old bachelor degree recipients are about $14,000 less than the median for whites”. Instead of earning US$62,000, therefore, blacks with bachelor degrees earn US$48,000 a year, or US$23 per hour.

More than half of white students whose parents hold bachelor degrees go on to graduate from a four-year college or university. The figure is even more striking for children of doctorate holders: 70% of them go on to earn a doctorate. Only 5% of those whose parents graduated from a two-year community college go on to earn a doctorate. 

A meritocratic class

While perhaps predictable, what these figures show is that within families education builds on education, creating a meritocratic class quite separate from the majority of Americans.

Like the “sorting hat” that assigns students to their house at Hogwarts (Harry Potter), a number of America’s high school graduates are sifted by family income and race. 53% of students with very high scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) are admitted to highly selective schools like Harvard or University of Chicago. 

These are the same students who, Baum and McPherson show, tend to come from families in which the parents hold degrees. 

They are also the students who come from families with the financial means to have sent them to private school – or to live in wealthy areas where public schools are well-funded – and to provide extras such as travel, a bookish home environment and SAT preparatory courses. Not surprisingly, only 31% of students with middling scores are admitted to highly selective schools. 

When looked at through the prism of race, Baum and McPherson show the figures are even more striking. Of the admissions to highly selective schools, 89% are Asian, 78% are white, 38% are Latinx and 25% are black. The order, it is worth noting, is the same as it is on charts they show indicating the income of each group.

Growing inequality

One of the most interesting parts of Can College Level the Playing Field is the graph Baum and McPherson use in their discussion of growing inequality, a topic which has been much discussed in the media in recent years.

Since 1969 the bottom 20% of American households (by earnings) saw the percent of their income, relative to the national income, drop from 6% to 4%. The next fifth dropped from 12% to 9%. The third fifth also dropped three percentage points to 15%. The fourth fifth remained at 24%. The highest fifth saw the percentage of their income rise from 41% to 48%; the top five percent, who are part of the highest fifth, saw their incomes rise from 16% to 20%.

At first glance, the drop in income for the poorest Americans from 6% to 4% does not seem that much. It is, however, a 33% decline. While large, when set against the fact that between 1969 and 2019 the US economy grew almost five-fold, from US$4.9 trillion to US$19.4 trillion, it might seem as though this lowest quintile is still doing fairly well economically. 

However, the cumulative inflation rate over the six decades beginning in 1969 is eight-fold: what cost US$100 in 1969 would have cost US$800 in 2019. Accordingly, the poorest Americans have absorbed approximately a 50% decrease in their buying power.

Lowering admission requirements

In the chapter titled, “What Can Colleges and Universities do?” Baum and McPherson make several suggestions. The first is for the elite schools to enroll more poor students. They urge elite schools to lower the SAT expectations from 1,600 to 1,250 for poor students. 

To those who would howl that the schools would be selling out to lower expectations, Baum and McPherson point out that elite schools routinely make such arrangements for star athletes – the ones who will fill these schools’ expensive stadia. Further, they note, such arrangements are routinely made for what’s known as “legacy applicants”, many whose parents just so happen to have made large donations to the alma mater their son or daughter is applying to.

Baum and McPherson urge other state universities to adopt a programme similar to the Texas Top Ten Percent rule. In the “Lonestar State”, the top 10% of high school graduates – even from poor areas where the high schools are lower on the league tables – are guaranteed admission to the state’s public universities, including the state’s flagship institution, the University of Texas at Austin. 

“Outcomes were no worse for the students they replaced, who attended less selective institutions but did not have lower enrollment rates, graduation rates, or earnings than they would have otherwise had,” they write.

For several decades, the United States Supreme Court has whittled away at the affirmative action efforts colleges and universities have used to address the racial imbalance on America’s campuses. In simplified terms, the court has said that quotas cannot be used to address historic or present discrimination – because doing so discriminates against the plaintiff. 

Baum and McPherson propose an interesting way around the court’s rulings. Instead of affirmative action based on race, colleges and universities can create affirmative action programmes based on economic class. 

These would “not [be] vulnerable to a legal challenge based on the Fourteenth Amendment” and, since black people and Latinx Americans make up a disproportionate share of poor people, programmes aimed at the economic class would benefit a large number of them.

Academic support

Their recommendation for mid-tier universities, which educate the vast majority of America’s higher education students, includes increasing state grants that will keep tuition as low as possible. 

Larger state grants will also allow these colleges and universities to provide academic support services that are needed by a disproportionate number of poorer students (because the schools they went to were themselves poorly funded).

Absent from Biden’s announcement about changes to Pell Grants was something Baum and McPherson consider important : however necessary for student success, remediation classes use up Pell Grant room and do not count towards graduation. 

In other words, if students need 64 classes to graduate, but have taken four remediation classes, they will have to take a total of 68 classes to graduate because the remediation classes do not count towards graduation. 

The effect of this is that many poor students have to remain an extra semester to graduate, with the attendant economic costs and no further Pell assistance.

Source: Inequality in higher education: the American Dream is over

Mintz: Reckoning With Inequality

Thoughtful analysis and discussion, along with some useful suggestions of how to approach inequality from a variety of lenses:

I was struck in the New York Times obituary of one of the great historians of race, Leon Litwack, by the casual and condescending way his landmark scholarship was dismissed. Sure, the article’s subtitle was positive: “One of Berkeley’s most popular professors, he brought passion and nuance—and a love for blues music—to his award-winning study of the marginalized and the oppressed.”

The obituary also mentioned that his scholarship “illustrated how racism had structured institutions and relations” and “focused on the way Black Americans experienced their freedom and shaped it.”

But toward the obituary’s end, the author observed that “many fellow historians complained that it placed unrelenting emphasis on Black people as victims and failed to tell a more nuanced tale about resistance.” It then quoted the Princeton historian emeritus Nell Irvin Painter:

“Litwack implies that African-American institutions function merely in response to white oppression, as though blacks had no existence beyond their connection with whites—Black Southerners as victims rather than Black Southerners as people … For all its picturesque appeal, ‘Trouble in Mind’ is stale.”

We mustn’t confuse an obituary with a eulogy, and without engaged and rigorous criticism, scholarship isn’t worthy of its name. But I fear that the Litwack obituary feeds into a common misconception: that scholarship in the humanities, like its counterpart in the natural sciences, is progressive, as more recent research supplants and supersedes its predecessors.

I consider this generational condescension utterly wrongheaded. Since the humanities disciplines are interpretive and analytic, humanities scholarship doesn’t necessarily progress and newer works certainly don’t sweep their predecessors into the dustpan of history.

Litwack’s historical scholarship, while focusing on highly specific historical topics—notably, Black lives during Reconstruction and the age of Jim Crow—also represented an attempt to grapple with race and racial inequality multidimensionally. He was as interested in racial socialization, racial etiquette and the intricacies of Black lives in extraordinarily difficult contexts as he was in Black resistance to racist violence.

Reality is multidimensional, but the academy is siloed.

At this historical moment, no issues draw more attention within the academy draw than those involving inequality and stratification. Departments across the humanities and social sciences offer a vast array of courses that speak to issues of anti-Semitism, homophobia, racism, sexism, xenophobia and other forms of bias, prejudice and persistent inequality.

But our students would be hard-pressed to study these topics holistically.

The reasons are obvious. Not only is the subject of inequality too broad to be treated with the nuance and complexity that it deserves, but none of us are knowledgeable enough to speak to the topic with the expertise that we take for granted in more specialized courses.

Also, there’s the danger of conflating inequalities that have different historical roots, trajectories and manifestations.

Classism, racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism and other forms of bias, prejudice and inequality have economic, historical, legal, political, psychological, sociological and even linguistic and theological dimensions. Inequality needs to be understood as ideological and institutional, but also as lived experience. Similarly, resistance to inequalities takes multiple forms: day-to-day resistance, cultural resistance, acts of collective protest and more

Efforts to eradicate inequalities not only involve policy and politics but philosophy, too, as we contemplate the host of ethical issues that the subjects raise involving personal and collective responsibility, atonement, forgiveness, and reparations.

As scholars, our expertise is rooted in particular disciplinary specializations. My discipline, history, focuses on change over time. Historians ask how inequalities are constructed socially and culturally, and their manifestation, meaning and function in specific economic, political and social contexts.

Yet, to take just one facet of the broader issue of inequality, gender inequities, any serious attempt to grapple with the subject would require us to examine, in addition to women’s history:

  • The ideological dimension: How various fields, including medicine and psychology, have pathologized women’s minds and bodies.
  • The legal, economic and political dimensions: How law, the market and policy embed and perpetuate gender inequities.
  • The representational dimension: How gendered depictions in art, advertisements and various media have distorted and misrepresented women’s realities.
  • The psychological dimension: How gender identities are socialized and how sexism has shaped women’s identities, expectations and behavior, pushing women to provide various forms of support to others.

I lead my life according to a series of mantras, one of which is “Anything worth doing is worth doing half-assed.” By that, I simply mean that we need to do the best we can even if we can’t accomplish everything we might wish.

So what if we, as a collective endeavor, tried to structure a multidisciplinary humanities and social sciences cluster around gender and racial inequalities, with a goal of providing students with “the big picture”? How might we address such an expansive and sweeping topic without lapsing into superficiality or punctuating broad themes with excessive narrowness?

Here, I can only begin to sketch what such a cluster might look like.

1. A history class might begin with the oldest, most long-standing form of inequality, patriarchy, and women’s systematic exclusion from “the creation of law, symbolic values, and structures of meaning.” Such a course might begin with the Middle Assyrian Laws of the 15th to the 11th centuries BCE, which required “women to wear head-to-toe veils and forbade them from speaking to non-family males or walking outdoors except in the company of a close male relative,” in the guise of protecting them from male predation.

The notion of separation or segregation as a form of guardianship and a shield against social conflict is a recurrent theme used to naturalize and legitimate restrictions and various forms of segregation.

Such a class might move on to Aristotle’s equation of women with slaves and domesticated animals—which served as the prototype for the “animalization” of other subordinate groups.

This class might also examine how anti-Semitism served as a seedbed for racism, and how, beginning in the 14th century, modern racism emerged, how European expansion and the slave trade reinforced racist thought, and how racism was institutionalized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This class would also need to look at the fluidity of definitions of race, which have varied geographically and chronologically, and the complex legacy of religious sectarianism and the Enlightenment, which at once offered new justifications for racial and gender inequalities while also fostering the first collective challenges to slavery and gender and racial inequalities.

2. An economics course might explore occupational and residential segregation; differentials in wages, owned assets and savings; debt levels; discrimination in loans, mortgages and patronage of businesses; and the concentration of women and Blacks in low-wage occupations. But it should also examine, through economic history, women’s unpaid labor, the intersection of labor systems and race, and efforts to contest subordination and labor exploitation.

3. A political science class might examine the role of law, public policy and civic institutions in promoting, reinforcing and perpetuating racial and gender hierarchies, as well as the political uses of racial and gender ideologies to preserve and exercise power, promote group solidarity, and distance subordinate classes from supposedly inferior groups.

4. A psychology class might reckon with the discipline’s racist and sexist past and examine the affective, emotional and psychological functions of gender and racial bias. Topics might include gender and racial socialization, stereotyping, implicit bias, scapegoating, and the role of emotional aversion in maintaining racial and gender boundaries. It might also examine the psychological costs of racism and sexism.

5. A sociology course might explore:

  • Racism and sexism as systems of structural, systemic and institutionalized privilege and advantage.
  • Racism and sexism through the lens of intersectionality: how gender, race, sexuality and other forms of social hierarchy and discrimination reinforce one another and help define status and power.
  • The relevance of caste, with its stress on heredity, group hierarchy and purity and pollution, to an understanding of gender and racial inequalities.
  • The complex relationship between race, gender and socioeconomic class.

6. A philosophy course might explore ideas of race and gender in the history of philosophy. It might also speak to some of today’s hottest topics: how best to address relics of a racist and sexist past; the meaning and value of meritocracy and the validity of the mechanisms used to assess merit; the desirability and practicality of reparations; and issues relating to atonement, forgiveness and closure.

I am convinced that many students crave the context and perspectives that the humanities and the social sciences offer on the issues of our time. But the discipline-based surveys and introductory courses and the narrow upper-division courses that reflect faculty members’ research interests fail, all too often, to capture students’ imagination or ignite their passions.

I understand the reluctance to tackle a topic as expansive and interdisciplinary as gender and racial inequalities. But please consider following my advice and remember my mantra—if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing half-assed.

Steven Mintz is professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin.

Source: Reckoning With Inequality | Higher Ed Gamma

What if we keep working from home?

Good depiction of some of the issues, including increased inequality:

Millions of Canadians are now well into their second year of working from home. As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, non-essential employees began working from their couches, kitchens and bedrooms, hopping virtually from one endless video meeting to another. What began as a temporary arrangement, however, will likely change the way we do our jobs permanently: working from home has its challenges, but it has enough upsides that both workers and employers may be reluctant to go back to the old ways. If this happens, we must ensure that this shift does not widen workplace inequalities.

Not all workers are equally likely to have been working from home during the pandemic. The shift was easier for people with office jobs, for instance, than for those in retail. Workers with permanent, full-time, higher-paid jobs are also more likely than those with less secure, lower-paid positions to have been working from home. This is the first way in which the change has exacerbated inequality within Canadian society: more economically vulnerable workers also ended up more vulnerable to the virus owing to their need to be physically present at work. All Canadians have been urged to stay at home as much as possible during the pandemic, but their ability to do so is in large part a function of the types of jobs that they hold.

For many who made the transition from office desk to the kitchen table, the experience has generally been positive – perhaps surprisingly so. In our recent survey, more than three in five agree that working from home has been easier than expected, and they say they like working from home better than their regular workplace. The same proportion even say that working remotely has been less stressful than working in the office. So far, so good.

At the same time, more than two in five express concerns about juggling work and family responsibilities while working from home – they feel like they are constantly working and never have time for themselves or their families. One in three find it impossible to do their job well while working from home.

It will shock no one that these stresses are most acutely experienced by parents of young children. Three in five of those caring for young children say they worry that they can’t be a good parent and be good at their job at the same time while working from home.

Younger workers, immigrants, racialized people, Indigenous workers and workers with a physical or mental condition that limits their daily activity are also more likely to experience challenges working from home. Most notably, each of these groups is more likely than average to worry that working from home will have a negative impact on their career. These workers may be less securely employed, and therefore more concerned about the longer-term consequences of being physically distant from their workplaces.

What’s notable, though, is that many of those experiencing challenges with working from home nonetheless feel positive about the arrangement overall. In fact, seven in 10 of those who have been working at home say that once the pandemic is over, their employer should continue to allow them to work remotely at least a few days a week. Clearly, workers are likely to expect greater flexibility from employers from now on.

All of this puts the onus to act back on employers and policy makers alike. It is not enough to pick up on the current zeitgeist and consider offering more flexible working arrangements once all lockdowns have been lifted. This experience should bring with it an obligation to ensure that new arrangements do not simply place further disadvantages on those already less connected to the centres of power.

Coming out of the events of the past year, we must renew our resolve to tackle persistent inequalities. This includes confronting the higher risks faced by front-line workers, the bigger challenges for those combining work and family responsibilities, and the greater barriers facing minority groups. New working arrangements will need new infrastructure, new policies, new supports, new ways of thinking about work and new skills for both employee and managers. These changes must now be made, not only in the context of physical offices and places of business, but in virtual ones as well.


What Does Vaccine Inequality Look Like? See Chart

In addition to inequalities within and between Western countries, not to forget the global ones:

Earlier this month, Namibia’s president Hage Geingob was invited to join the WHO’s weekly press briefing to talk about World Health Day. The idea was for him to help explain to the hundreds of reporters from around the world what was happening with COVID immunization efforts in his southern African nation.

In what has become all too common during the pandemic, the video connection was unstable. The Namibian president kept freezing on the screen. The audio would become muffled and incomprehensible, or the sound would drop out entirely.

Then at times there would be bursts of clarity. “It is COVID apartheid!” Geingob shouted.

“We already made our deposit!” He insisted. It became clear that the president was using his time not to speak to the press but to harangue WHO officials in the room to finally deliver the vaccine doses he’d already paid for through COVAX. That’s the WHO-led initiative to procure and equitably distribute vaccines, particularly for low- and middle-income nations.

“We have made the advance payment but there is this exclusion. COVID apartheid is now prevailing,” he said, comparing the inequity in global access to vaccines to the South African Apartheid system that divided the country along racial lines and trapped millions of Black Africans in poverty.

“Up until now, we didn’t get any,” he said of the vaccines Namibia has ordered. The few hundred doses that Namibia has been able to secure is “only because our good friends, China and India, gave us vaccines.”

So far Namibia has given fewer than 3,000 COVID jabs. This is a fraction of what a mass vaccination site in the U.S., like the Javits Center in New York City, administers every day.

In the United States nearly 40% of the population has now gotten at least one dose of a vaccine. In Namibia less than 0.1% of the population has gotten a shot.

The U.S. has administered more COVID vaccinations in to arms than any other country in the world. Ingrid Katz, the associate faculty director at the Harvard Global Health Institute, says the U.S. is now in “somewhat rarified air” in the global vaccination effort. “There are a few other nations out there who are with us.” Globally just 2.3% of the world’s population is now fully vaccinated. In Africa it’s fewer than 1%.

“It you look at the data globally,” Katz says. “You’ll see that about 75% of the vaccines have gone to only 10 countries globally. There’s massive, massive inequality.”

The countries that have managed to get a lot of people vaccinated — the U.S., the U.K., India — all happen to have manufacturing plants that are producing the vaccines. They also have had export restrictions which meant their own citizens have been at the front of the line to get immunized. Important regional players such as South Africa have fully vaccinated only ½ of 1% of their population. In the Philippines it’s less than 0.1%. Even wealthy nations in Europe such as Germany, Spain, Italy and France haven’t yet gotten above 7%.

Katz says this is no way to tackle a global health crisis. “If we assume that it’s fine just to vaccinate American citizens but no one else in the world, we’re going to be in big trouble,” she says.

Katz had a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine. In it she and her colleagues calculated that based on the vaccination rates happening globally at the end of March, it would take 4.6 years for the planet to reach herd immunity against SARS-CoV-2. Since then the number of shots being given each week has increased.

“But we’re still talking years. It’s not going to be months,” until this pandemic is under control, she says. And if the virus continues to spread and mutate for several more years, there’s a good chance that a variant could emerge to which the vaccines provide no protection.

At that point the U.S. would be in no better position than a country that hadn’t vaccinated at all.

Getting the whole world immunized “is an investment in our own self-interest,” Katz says.

Source: What Does Vaccine Inequality Look Like? See Chart

Korea: Migrant women call for ‘Equal pay for equal work’

Of note:

Hundreds of female migrant workers employed at government-run facilities are suffering discrimination and unfair treatment, according to a recent survey by Hope Center with Migrant Workers, a civic group based in Seoul.

The survey results were revealed on Wednesday at a discussion session held by the Women Migrants Human Rights Center of Korea ahead of International Migrants Day which falls on Dec. 18.

About 80 percent of the 403 respondents working as interpreters, counselors and bilingual tutors stated that they have experienced discrimination such as unequal payment, limited promotion opportunities and unrecognized work experience.

“I’ve been working as an interpreter at a multicultural family support center for 13 years, during which I have never received holiday bonuses or extra pay for meal costs that are obviously provided to my Korean coworkers,” a marriage migrant was quoted as saying by the civic group. She requested anonymity.

“I don’t understand why I am paid less than my colleagues although we are given similar tasks. It’s hard to imagine that a state-run facility aimed at improving multicultural awareness openly discriminates employees by their nationality,” said another migrant woman with five years of work experience at the support center.

According to the data provided by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in October, bilingual tutors at public schools earn around 26.3 million won ($24,100) yearly, and interpreters working at multicultural support centers earn an average of 25.6 million won ― roughly 66 percent of the average annual salary of employees at the centers, which stood at 34.2 million won.

The civic group pointed out that the lack of details on wage guidelines has widened the payment gap.

The wage guidelines set by the ministry only state that interpreters and counselors should be paid “over the minimum wages,” whereas the specific manuals for Korean employees guarantee a yearly pay raise and chances for promotion based on their consecutive years of employment.

The survey also found that 91 percent of the migrant women experienced weak job security as their employment is based on temporary contracts of 10 months or one year. Also, 67 percent of the women have experienced workplace bullying such as verbal abuse and insults towards their home country.

“These issues, which have not been properly addressed for years, have turned into long-term systemic discrimination. Even the latest support measures from the gender ministry failed to reflect the realities in the workplace,” Wang Ji-yeon, head of the Migrant Women Association in Korea, told The Korea Times.

“What we need is improved job quality, not increased quantities of vacancies,” she said, regarding the ministry’s recent announcement to increase the number of interpreters in multicultural family support centers to 312 next year from the current 282.

She demanded an overhaul on the employment system; hiring qualified migrant women to full-time positions through proper recruitment procedures and providing education programs for their career development, as well as standardized wage guidelines.

“The current multicultural policies are mainly centered on family lives of migrant women, lacking support for their social activities. The government should recognize their capabilities and contributions to the country, and come up with better measures for them to be accepted as members of our society,” said Hwang Jeong-mi, a researcher at the Institute for Gender Research at Seoul National University.

Source: Migrant women call for ‘Equal pay for equal work’

How race, income and ‘opportunity hoarding’ will shape Canada’s back-to-school season

Good long read on how the impact of COVID-19 will likely increase inequality further:

Two weeks before vice-principal Brandon Zoras was to welcome a group of students back to the classrooms at Toronto’s Westview Centennial Secondary School, a message appeared in his LinkedIn inbox from a stranger.

“Hi Brandon, hope you are doing well! I am looking for an experienced TDSB Grade 11 chemistry tutor to coach my son online only (due to social distancing) – to start right away. Please let me know if that is something you (or someone you know) can help my son with. Best regards.”

Irritated, Mr. Zoras groaned and deleted it without replying.

Westview has one of the largest Black student populations in the country and sits in the northwest corridor of Toronto, which has become the epicentre for COVID-19 infections. Many students live in cramped housing, have parents who are essential workers and rely on public transit to get around, all things that contribute to the high infection rate – which is 10 times that of the least-infected parts of the city. The average annual income for residents in the area is $27,984 – half of what it is for Toronto as a whole.

“It makes my heart hurt for the families who can’t afford a tutor or who can’t afford all these additional things,” said Mr. Zoras, a science educator.

Since he began working as an educator 11 years ago, he has seen the way public education funding has been diminished, how families in the system have found ways to privatize parts of their children’s schooling to get what they want. Education advocates say those efforts are making things less equitable for everyone else.

Every year, parents across the country lobby to get their children into advanced-placement classes, buy houses in neighbourhoods that will give them access to coveted schools and fundraise on the school council to bring in technology and high-level arts programming.

Now, with the return to school amidst a global pandemic, those efforts to secure the best for their children, known in sociology as “opportunity hoarding,” have become more overt. The confidence many had in the public-education system has been ripped apart because of reopening plans and it seems no amount of fundraising, private meetings with principals or school council strategizing can bring about the changes many are seeking for a safe return to school.

The result is some of the most privileged public-school families are opting for distance education, hiring personal tutors and forming private learning pods – decisions that are ostensibly made in the best interests of their children, but which will likely cause major rifts across race and class. Those in lower-income communities are also choosing remote learning because they have elderly relatives living with them who are vulnerable to getting sick, they feel a heightened threat from COVID-19 because they are in areas with the highest infection rates and the buildings in which they live pose challenges to getting to school on time in a pandemic.

That families on both ends of the socio-economic spectrum are opting for remote learning exposes cracks that already existed in the system. There’s a threat the most privileged will pull out to customize their own education since they can afford to, while others who are fearful of sending their children back to school but cannot pay for private help are becoming test subjects for a new realm of online learning. As plans are pulled together haphazardly, there’s a concern the divide will deepen.

This week, school boards in Toronto, Peel Region and Halton Region released the results of parent surveys that show a sizable portion of students will not be in classes this fall: 30 per cent of elementary and 22 per cent of high school students for Toronto; 33 per cent combined for Peel; and 29 per cent elementary and 15 per cent high school for Halton. A portion of households didn’t respond and school staff will be reaching out to them directly, which could change these figures.

At Thorncliffe Park Public School, in a community that has long been a landing pad for newcomers and where the median household income is $46,595, 38 per cent of families surveyed say they’ll do remote learning this fall.

Munira Khilji, a mother of two in Thorncliffe Park, said many parents she knows chose this option because they live in high-rises and don’t want to endure waits of an hour or longer just to take the elevator while pandemic-related capacity limits are in place – and they worry about physical distancing in such a cramped space.

The issue is most apparent in Ontario, where families have been given a clear choice between in-person and remote learning, but it’s forcing a reckoning in many other parts of the country. In Alberta, 28 per cent of students in Edmonton’s public school board have chosen remote learning. In British Columbia, Education Minister Rob Fleming has said that school districts have the flexibility to provide remote learning options, but there is confusion among parents and school officials as to what that will mean and whether students will remain enrolled in their home schools.

“What COVID has done once again is expose the stark inequities in our system and the realities that families in marginalized communities have to navigate,” said Jeewan Chanicka, the former superintendent of equity, anti-racism and anti-oppression at the Toronto District School Board. “These families also know that their communities are going to be hit the hardest. They are behaving in a way where they’re trying to save their children’s lives.”

Some worry the shift out of the classroom could have devastating long-term consequences: If parents come to appreciate the increased attention their child gets from a teacher in a pod with just four other students, they might opt to continue this post-pandemic and permanently withdraw from a system whose funding is determined by head count.

“Where I worry a bit is in particular for those of privilege; if they’re pulling their children out, whether or not they will return to public education, I don’t know,” Mr. Chanicka said. “My hope is that yes, this is a blip because of the pandemic.”

COVID-19 has presented an opportunity to rethink how Canada operates homeless shelters and long-term care – will the same be true for schools, or will navigating the pandemic only further fracture the system?

Before Marty Menard even had a daughter, he and his wife had done their homework on which school they wanted her to attend. Wortley Road Public School in London, Ont., a well-regarded K-8 school known for its small student population and very involved parent community, stood out. When Mr. Menard’s wife was in her third trimester, they bought a house in Wortley Village, which the Canadian Institute of Planners dubbed the best neighbourhood in Canada in 2013, so they’d be in the catchment area for the school they determined was their first and only choice.

In his daughter’s second year there, Mr. Menard enthusiastically joined many of the various parent committees and even became co-chair of the school council, helping organize fundraisers, the breakfast program and cultural celebrations.

When schools shut down in mid-March, Mr. Menard turned to a private tutoring program to offer his daughter an hour of instruction a day and also found a few hours each week to use online resources from the Khan Academy to help boost her development. But after a few months, his daughter said she was lonely and Mr. Menard knew this couldn’t continue into September. A learning pod seemed like the best solution: The risk of his daughter being exposed to the novel coronavirus would be lower than it might be in a packed classroom, but she would still enjoy social interaction. On social media, he found a few other parents and a provincially certified teacher who will lead the pod, but is struggling to find a space that will host them without greatly increasing the costs, which he estimates will be about $500 to $750 a month.

With school already under way in some provinces and just a few weeks away in others, the scramble to clear those logistical hurdles has sent plenty of parents who have chosen the same option as Mr. Menard into a frenzy.

As August wore on, the panic among parents in the Learning Pods – Canada Facebook group was palpable. Thousands from Vancouver Island to Halifax, but mostly in Ontario, had flocked to the group to find others in their neighbourhood to pod up with, to find a teacher to hire, or to share their story about turning to this option to protect an immunocompromised member of their family.

They solicited advice on everything from costs (“Can folks share how much is a reasonable salary to offer a teacher for a pod of four?” asked one mom in Hamilton) to insurance (“My insurance company approved extended insurance for each child in my pod. They will not cover communicable disease transmission. Has anyone else figured out how to get around this? Co-op among parents to share the responsibility? Corporation to reduce risk?” wrote another in Waterloo, Ont.). Some pods will rotate between a group of households where parents share teaching duties; others will be situated in rented spaces with lots of technology and resources provided and come with a cost of up to a few thousand dollars a month.

On and offline, the conversation on learning pods often leads to bigger questions of equity: are they classist? Do they further the divide between the haves and the have nots? Shouldn’t parents with enough privilege to put their children in a learning pod harness it to lobby the government to make classrooms safe for all children?

Those debates have arisen in Mr. Menard’s own marriage. He describes himself as a “lefty” and a proponent of the public school system, which he says has been steadily defunded for years – but still, he and his wife have decided that given the pandemic and the government’s plans, this is the best option for his family.

“Nothing is going to marginalize kids more than people like me who could afford a learning pod,” he says. “The bottom line as a parent is I still have to put my kid’s interests above every other point of view or political point of view that I have.”

It’s a rationale sociologist Margaret Hagerman encountered again and again when she spent time with affluent white families in the American Midwest as part of research for her book White Kids: Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America. She observed a phenomenon she dubs “the conundrum of privilege”: Parents who identify as progressives, who care about equity, who may have taken their children to the climate strike or hung up a Black Lives Matter poster in their window, don’t think twice about what it means to give their children advantages that others don’t have access to. They want to raise their children in a just society, but they’ve used their privilege to work against that very goal.

“I think we need to reconfigure what we mean when we say we are doing the best for our child or being the best parent,” she said. “I don’t actually think that advocating for your own kid when that harms other people is the best version of anything.”

When parents talk about the gifts they want to give their children for the future, she likes to challenge them: “Don’t you want your kid to live in a society with less racial violence and with less inequality and social conflict and social problems and suffering?” she asks. “If you could do things now that would provide that different future for your child and the other children around him, it’s kind of philosophical, but I just think that that’s a compelling argument.”

While some who have opted for pods defend their choice with the argument that this will make classrooms less populous and therefore safer for students who do attend in person, the net effect isn’t the reduced class sizes parents, epidemiologists and public health experts have recommended. Rather, classes will be combined and likely grow in size because the government has not funded lower class sizes.

In Edmonton, the city’s public school board said nearly 29,000 students, or roughly 28 per cent of its entire enrolment, had opted for online learning as of Wednesday, though the board stressed that those numbers could change. To accommodate them, it has assigned 775 teachers to those online students. The board has hired an additional 100 teachers on temporary contracts, but board chair Trisha Estabrooks said the shift has meant decreased in-class enrolment hasn’t led to a decrease in class sizes.

“Even though we have 30 per cent of our students choosing to learn online, the reality is that doesn’t decrease the overall class size either, because we also need to have teachers in place to teach those online cohorts,” said Ms. Estabrooks, who acknowledged that in many classrooms, physical distancing is difficult, if not impossible.

Atiba Ralph, a single Black father, said he has heard so far that all of his daughter’s friends will return to in-person classes this fall; he hadn’t even heard of learning pods but said they sounded like “a pretty smart idea,” albeit one that was out of reach for him.

“It probably happened with the people that are in a higher tax bracket,” he said. “I have a little bit more financial problems.”

The COVID-19 threat is present every time he steps out of his apartment in Toronto: He lives in the Jane and Finch area, one of the most-infected in the city, and knows of two Black people – one a neighbour of his mother, another a friend of a friend – who died of COVID-19 earlier this year. Public health data collected by the city from mid-May to mid-July showed Black people had the highest share of COVID-19 infections.

Recognizing that some neighbourhoods have been much harder hit than others by COVID-19, the Toronto District School Board is directing extra funds and capping class sizes at abo

ut 80 schools in those areas, most of which are in the northwest corner of the city.

Alice Romo, an education advocate with the Latinx, Afro-Latin-America, Abya Yala Education Network, says she worries about the way children from low-income neighbourhoods will fall behind this year if they are educated at home: They’ll be less engaged, it will be more difficult for them to finish their homework and, crucially, many will miss out on all the non-academic parts of school that keep low-income communities afloat, such as breakfast and lunch programs.

“We’re definitely going to see this a few years down the road. There will be more of an inequality gap,” she said.

Those who withdraw from the system may think the decision only affects their household, “the more you shift the role of education towards families and away from public schools, the more inequality you’re going to have,” says Andrew Franklin-Hall, a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto who studies ethics.

For some students, school might be the only environment where they are exposed to peers from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds; in a learning pod, just like in a private school, opportunities for that exposure are limited.

“When parents are suddenly forced to make this kind of decision, naturally they turn to the resources they have, which is their own friends, their own community,” he said. “This is not the sort of thing that people feel comfortable articulating, because they don’t want to say, ’Well, I don’t trust the people who are different than me or I don’t trust the people who aren’t as well off or have a different race.’”

Before the pandemic forced a crisis in the education system, many school boards had committed to addressing systemic racism and inequity by re-evaluating programs, such as French immersion (which attracts a higher proportion of affluent, white students) and streaming (which routinely put Black children on a path to applied courses, which limit their options after graduation), that have disadvantaged students from low-income and racialized communities. Now with educators focused on the basics of opening schools, reimagining the system seems impractical, if not impossible.

In June, Stephanie Brembridge, a Black mother in Toronto whose son attends a public Catholic school, reached out to the school principal to ask whether she could add an item to the agenda for the next parent council meeting of the year: She wanted to discuss what the predominantly white school could do to better help Black and Indigenous students succeed.

Her faith in the school had already been tested. Her son, Trusten, had been suspended several times – once for apparently saying “an inappropriate word” – though the school was never able to tell Ms. Brembridge what that word was. With the help of an advocacy group that works with Black parents, she was able to get a few of those suspensions overturned (data collected at school boards across the country show that Black students are suspended and expelled at a disproportionate rate).

When it came time for the parent council meeting, which was held over Zoom, Ms. Brembridge noticed her item was at the very end of the agenda. She grew anxious as an hour and a half flew by, while the other parents (all but one of them were white) discussed which teachers were retiring, how they might safely plan a social function in the summer and other matters Ms. Brembridge believed to be far less pressing than hers.

“Okay, I think that’s it,” someone said, ready to adjourn the meeting. Ms. Brembridge, surprised, unmuted her microphone and reminded them she still hadn’t spoken. She was told she had three minutes and could see parents starting to leave the chat. “I‘m not going speak until I can get everybody’s full attention,” she said. Her item was moved to the agenda for the next meeting – three months later, in September.

As a teacher in Toronto, Kelly Iggers has been exposed to the type of parental advocacy that’s aimed at “achieving supports that will benefit one’s own child.” When she learned Ontario’s back-to-school plan, released in late July, would not include reduced class sizes, she started a petition arguing in favour of them that netted more than 250,000 signatures across the province and evolved into a campaign with parents, educators, doctors and others discussing and planning in closed groups, including a WhatsApp chat.

“This issue of advocating for a safe and equitable return to school, it’s not about advocating for one’s own community or one’s own child,” she said. “This only works if we’re advocating for something that’s going to support everyone.”

This moment of reckoning in Ontario comes at a time when Alberta is moving toward a model that could heighten class and race disparities within the public system. For now, it’s the only province to have charter schools, which are independently run, non-profit public schools that have a greater degree of autonomy than a normal public school, allowing them to create programming that’s only for girls, or for the academically gifted.

Earlier this week, the Choice in Education Act took effect that, among other things, makes it easier to apply for and create a charter school. Now, a group wanting to establish a new charter school can bypass the local school board and apply directly to the government.

Calgary mom Dallas Hall’s son started Grade 4 last month at Connect Charter School after switching from a local public school. Ms. Hall said she likes the type of education he’s receiving, which includes experiential learning and outdoor learning. She also said the school has less bureaucracy than a traditional public school system – the same features that are making private school or learning pods an attractive option for parents elsewhere. Ms. Hall likes the idea of parents having choice in education. “They should have a voice. Their voice should be welcome,” she said.

Ms. Iggers said she didn’t want to vilify parents who are choosing private options, but says this shift out of the classroom has the potential to cause long-term damage.

“It’s prompting families with the means to do so to leave the system,” she said. And when they leave, “they [take] with them what are often the most powerful voices to advocate for a properly funded education system.”


Which workers are being hit hardest by the COVID-19 lockdown? These 6 graphics paint a stark picture of Canadian inequality

Good analysis and series of charts (go to article link for charts) by Mikal Skuterud showing the different groups most affected:

The COVID-19 lockdown is proving to be a “highly unequal economic shock,” hitting not only low-wage hourly workers the hardest, but also women in non-unionized jobs, according to an analysis of Statistics Canada labour force data by Waterloo professor of economics Mikal Skuterud.

The data also shows women with small children are losing more hours of work, compared to those with older kids, and that self-employed workers, who include small business owners, are feeling the pinch much more than employees in the private or public sector.

Skuterud says many of those jobs may be lost forever and the impact of those losses will widen the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.”

This recession “has hit lower income people and families, more than people like me,” says Skuterud, who continues to work from home. “It’s been very unequal. And that’s a concern.

“The question is what’s this going to do to inequality.”

By his estimates, three to five million workers in Canada have been affected and Skuterud believes many of those people will not go back to the jobs they once did.

“People are going to have to move and find jobs in other sectors, and maybe these are sectors where they don’t have the skills they need,” says Skuterud. “All of this is going to become a big issue coming forward.”

Skuterud’s analysis is based on Statistics Canada’s labour force survey from April. The survey, of up to 60,000 people, is done each month online or by phone. Like the census, participation is mandatory under the Statistics Act.

Not your traditional recession

Typically, recessions come from the demand side of the market, says Skuterud. Consumers stop buying goods, companies don’t need to produce as much and, when production slows down, they lay off workers.

In the COVID-19 crisis, workers were told to stay home practically overnight.

And instead of the typical job losses in manufacturing and construction, the initial economic shock is happening in jobs where people have human interactions, says Skuterud.

A lot of those jobs are in the lower-wage service and retail industry, with lower hourly wages, where the workforce is predominantly female, he says.

“The financial crisis of 2008 didn’t happen overnight. It just wasn’t nearly the same magnitude, not nearly as many workers were affected as this.”

Non-unionized women hit hardest

The biggest job losses are in areas with human interaction, such as cashiers or any kind of retail. “It’s the type of jobs that women are concentrated in and lower wage workers are concentrated in,” says Skuterud.

Job losses among non-unionized women paid by the hour have been three times larger than among unionized women paid by the hour, such as nurses, says Skuterud.

As a result of the lockdown, women with young children have experienced the biggest loss in total working hours.

“We know from lots of research that caregiving falls on women,” says Skuterud. “For sure that’s what’s happening.”

Women in science have complained of not being able to work as much as their male counterparts during the pandemic and, in the university environment, Skuterud has noticed a bigger decrease in the number of academic papers from women compared to men.

He says it’s critical to address child care when we begin to turn the corner.

How families are faring

In general, recessions hurt families more than individuals, often because spouses work in the same sector and layoffs affect both spouses.

Skuterud says that’s not happening this time around, although the percentage of couples who’ve both lost their jobs went up from February to April this year.

In “this recession, the effect at the individual level has been massive,” he says.

Self-employed workers

Hours on the job for self-employed workers dropped by nearly 50 per cent between mid-February and mid-April, and private sector workers experienced a higher proportion of job losses.

“There are a lot of self-employed people: marginal business owners, workers in the gig economy, people driving Ubers,” says Skuterud. “These people have really been hit hard.”

“Going forward it will be interesting to see how many people move into self-employment,” he says. “And not because there’s good opportunity, but because of survival.

“There’s going to be more and more people looking for those jobs just to survive.”

Impact biggest in people who rent

From February to April 2020, a larger proportion of people who rent lost their jobs compared to people who owned their own homes.

It’s another indicator “that the recession has really hit lower income people harder,” says Skuterud. “That’s the bottom line in all of these charts.”

Source: Which workers are being hit hardest by the COVID-19 lockdown? These 6 graphics paint a stark picture of Canadian inequality

The Citizenship Problem | Essay | Zócalo Public Square

While his overall critique of the many inequalities intrinsic to citizenship is largely correct, no discussion of realistic alternatives (because there are none with the exception of the mixed success of the EU).

The more practical approach is to assess individual citizenship policies and practices as to their degree of inclusion or exclusion:

Why do we still cling to citizenship?

Certainly, it’s not required to protect your rights. We live in a world of human rights, where slavery is outlawed, gay people can marry, and thinking for yourself (rather than obedience to authority) is valued. So why, in societies based on the ideal of equal human worth, does citizenship still exist?

Citizenship is typically justified with romantic notions—self-determination, democracy, preservation of values. But at its core, citizenship is little more than a certain legal status within a certain legal system. By defining its rights and privileges as bound to a particular state, citizenship itself violates our cherished idea of equal human worth. Instead, citizenship is most effective at upholding caste systems both within and among nations.

In most cases, citizenship is granted more or less at random, based on where your family was from, or where you were raised. Public authorities grant citizenship; the actual citizen typically has no participation in the decision. Once granted, citizenship cannot be refused—or changed before obtaining some other citizenship, without the risk of becoming a “stateless” person, deprived of the rights of citizenship anywhere in the world.

Citizenship was created to legally proclaim equality among the haves and have-nots. It did not eliminate socioeconomic inequality; it merely explained it away through the incomplete promise of “one person one vote.” This made extracting obedience from the population easier and drove nationalism. Today, even the most awful political systems boast glorified citizenships.

For most of its history, citizenship has been useful for a very ugly reason. Citizenship allows us to ignore the basic tenets of the enlightenment—the presumption that humans are equal—without real argument. It is enough to say “She is not a citizen” to justify excluding someone from rights, entitlements, and respect.

For most of its history, citizenship has been useful for a very ugly reason. Citizenship allows us to ignore the basic tenets of the enlightenment—the presumption that humans are equal—without real argument. It is enough to say “She is not a citizen” to justify excluding someone from rights, entitlements and respect.

Citizenship, thus, can divide as much as it unites. We see that in the U.S. with DACA kids, the Dreamers, who are threatened with being thrown out of their home country because they lack citizenship. And America is not alone. Citizenship divides not only people within a nation, but confers unequal status based on the privileged status of some nations over others. Think of those who possess the all-entitling super-citizenships of nations of the global north, versus the limitations against people who come from former colonies—it’s clear that the status quo of citizenship is racist.

Racism is just one of the core building blocks of citizenship; sexism is another, as citizenship was routinely denied to women as well as minorities until well into the 20th century.

Citizenship is at a crossroads now: the dominant narrative that the global equality of human beings can be assured within states is in reality eroding. Different citizenships are not equal, and the allocation of citizenship rights worldwide is neither logical nor clear.
At the macro level, citizenship enables the perpetuation of rigid pre-modern caste structures. The son of an American is an American, and the son of a brahman is a brahman. We do not ask ourselves whether this is just.

To argue for citizenship at a micro level is utterly confounding and contradictory. Being a tenured professor is irrelevant to citizenship in Germany, but was crucial to securing immediate citizenship in Austria until 2008. “Being active in the diaspora” is irrelevant to Austrians, but can make you a Pole. Having a Lebanese mother is irrelevant to Lebanese citizenship, but having a Jewish mother, even without Israeli citizenship, can make you Israeli.

Examples of this disparity in the rules of citizenship are countless: what is taken for granted as best practice in one country can seem almost outrageous in another. But the contradictions should point us to the bigger problem with citizenship: there cannot be a “worse” or a “better” method of assignment to a caste. Any caste system depends on repugnant assumptions and should be intolerable, at least in modern democracies.

All citizenships are described often as equally valuable—even though this assumption is flawed. Equality of different citizenships would only work in a world where authorities could enforce standards of self-fulfillment and personal empowerment in every country. In such a world, citizenship would provide rights, not liabilities.

And in such a glorious world, citizenship would then be irrelevant.

But we live in a world where there are Pakistanis, whose citizenship is a global liability; they must hold a visa to travel to any other country, and hold no settlement rights abroad—and also Norwegians, who enjoy countless rights at home and can settle in more than 40 of the richest democracies without any formalities. In our world, citizenships do not have equal dignity. We are treated differently according to the color of our passport, and citizenship upholds random privilege. Look from Europe across the Mediterranean, or peer from the U.S. across the wall President Trump is building, and you see a world order where punishing randomness and hypocrisy reign.

The quality of our citizenship correlates very neatly with the global distribution of wealth. Most of the world’s people are losers of what prominent scholar Ayelet Shachar called ‘the birthright lottery.’ That is because they are denied the mobility and security that comes with a passport from an economically advanced nation and got their status at random. By controlling the borders between states, citizenship is the most important tool in the world to keep it that way.

Source: The Citizenship Problem | Essay | Zócalo Public Square

Workers have been left to save capitalism from COVID-19

Too early to assess the longer-term impacts but hopefully improvements in wages and working conditions (but experience at meat packing plants not encouraging):

Since the arrival of a novel coronavirus in the United States, workers at Whole Foods have carried out a mass “sickout,” demanding that management provide them not just with masks, but with hazard pay, virus testing and paid leave if they have to self-quarantine. Gig workers at grocery-service Instacart went on strike as well, demanding a pay raise, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. Warehouse workers at Amazon facilities in Detroit, Chicago and New York City staged walkouts, demanding that their workplaces be temporarily closed for deep cleaning. And it isn’t just new-economy companies whose workers are concerned for their safety. Bus drivers in Birmingham, Ala., refused to work because of unsafe conditions, and across the country, drivers for Target’s delivery service, fast-food workers and gas-station attendants have all staged walkouts as well.

More than 750 cases of coronavirus, which accounted for roughly half of the confirmed cases in South Dakota last month, were traced to the Smithfield meat processing plant in Sioux Falls, which partly reopened Monday after nearly three weeks of closure. Deemed “essential workers,” which means they must remain on the front lines, most of its employees are immigrants – some 80 languages are spoken at the plant – who make between US$14 and US$16 an hour. According to union representatives speaking to the BBC, workers’ requests for protective clothing, temperature checks and sanitation stations had been ignored, while sick workers were incentivized to remain on the job. It’s a page that might have been ripped out of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

Late-stage capitalism, it turns out, still looks an awful lot like it did back in the days of William Blake’s “dark satanic mills.” The consequences are not just morally appalling, but economically unsustainable. The economy cannot stay up and running through the crisis, and it won’t be able to recover over the long term, so long as essential workers don’t have the protections necessary to do their jobs. Capitalists are so oriented to the short term that they don’t realize that workers are the people keeping their factories, companies and the economy, broadly, up and running.

Roughly three in 10 workers have jobs that require physical proximity to their co-workers and close interaction with the people they serve. They are disproportionately women, immigrants and visible minorities.

In what may be the strangest of the many strange turns spurred by the COVID-19 crisis, these front-line workers are telling capitalists what they need to do in order to save their factories, their companies, and themselves. Late capitalism sees these workers not as essential but as dispensable cogs in the machine, as costs to be minimized. Pay is low and working conditions are terrible, as workers are left to fend for themselves when it comes to securing the protective gear they need – if they are even allowed to wear it.

While leading companies, including large profitable ones, shirk their responsibilities to their workers and hence to their customers and society at large, it’s our front-line heroes who are calling this out. Demanding the protective equipment and spacing they need to do their jobs safely will not just protect them, it protects factories and warehouses from becoming hot spots for spread of the virus, and ultimately means production lines, supply chains and delivery systems and stores can all continue to function.

This emerging working-class movement for higher wages, more protective equipment, and better working conditions bears an eerie similarity to the movement of industrial workers that emerged a century ago in the wake of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, when low-paid workers in crowded and dangerous factories organized for higher pay and safer working conditions. Like then, it may take time to bear fruit. That earlier pandemic was immediately followed by the roaring 1920s, which featured horrifying levels of economic inequality that echoed the conditions of today. It took the better part of two or three decades before the labour reforms of the New Deal and the economic mobilization of the Second World War gave rise to the golden era of the 1950s and 1960s, when factory workers finally vaulted into the middle class.

Hopefully, a reinvigorated movement of essential-service and factory workers can garner support from professional and “knowledge” workers, who depend on the products and services that essential workers deliver. What’s clear is that neither our political leaders nor our capitalists are up to the task.

In an irony that would have Marx himself rolling over in his grave: it is workers who may end up saving capitalism from itself.

Corak: COVID-19 is not the great leveller. It’s the great revealer

Great and accurate commentary by Corak:

In a medical sense, COVID-19, as highly contagious as it is, can be thought of as the great leveller. No one has immunity, and we face the health risk of this virus with a sense of our common humanity.

But in a socio-economic sense, it is not as contagious. The jobs some of us hold give us an economic immunity, and we face the economic risk of this virus with a very different sense of our interconnectedness.

Last week Statistics Canada reported that more than one million jobs were lost as social distancing and mandated work shutdowns took force. A further two million people saw their hours of work fall dramatically, implying that over three million Canadians were directly impacted.

The big hope, the hope upon which the entire government response rests, is that the COVID-19 economic shock will be temporary. The goal is to freeze the economy until the winds of illness pass by, allowing us to start again where we left off. Public policy is focused on the challenge of adjustment and rebound.

But Statistics Canada’s look into the socially distanced economy also reveals longstanding inequalities that have been growing wider and wider for decades.

For many families, the bottom end of wage inequality means an insecure standard of living and lower prosperity for the next generation.

The usual economic parable claims that this is the price paid to foster growth, and eventually more prosperity for everyone. We need to adjust to win.

The market has sent a signal: tool up, get better skilled, move elsewhere and move onward. The next and better job is just around the corner!

And after all, if you have a job, even if you need more than one to stay afloat, there is always a sense of hope, a shred of dignity, the aspiration of a better tomorrow. Income inequality is easier to ignore in a full employment economy.

But the great revealer has arrived in the form of a virus, its economic fallout showing almost perfectly the divides between those who are vulnerable and those who are not.

Now, some of us do work that is not public-facing.

Some of us do work that is flexible and supported by technology and computers.

And of course some of us do work that gets us an income well above average, offering security, health, a home with space, and a comfortable family life.

This work gives us an economic immunity.

What is the big deal about working at home if you normally spend half your time working from an airplane seat?

But underlying Statistics Canada’s report are some dramatic differences.

The employment change among managers and those working in professional, scientific, or technical jobs was “decimal point dust,” but 300,000 people working in accommodation and food services lost work, a fall that wiped out 20 years of growth.

The foot soldiers in this very first economic battle against COVID-19 were the young and women, those who work in part-time and temporary jobs, with no union contracts and lower wages. Students and those who were already unemployed were also out of luck finding their next job.

Now that we are collectively facing a health risk that is spreading across space, we’ve been given the opportunity for empathy with many people who individually confront risks that repeat over and over again during the course of their lives, an accumulation of bad draws over time that leads to lower and more precarious incomes, housing that is less stable and of lower quality, families that are less secure.

In much of this there is no question of merit and just desert, it’s just bad luck.

It is nice for premiers and prime ministers to thank truck drivers and grocery store clerks for their essential work, but it will be hypocrisy of the highest order for our governments to only hope to start up again where we left off.

Inequality has been robbing many Canadians of security, prosperity and dignity for decades. That is what COVID-19 reveals.

No, we don’t just have an adjustment problem. We have — as we have long had — an inequality problem.

Source: ContributorsOpinionCOVID-19 is not the great leveller. It’s the great revealer