Reader Email: "Vaccine Hesitancy" Is A Class Issue
It’s not often that I’d feel compelled to share a full reader email. I get a lot of emails… and let’s just say the quality can vary.
But here’s an extremely high-quality email that’s worth reproducing. It comes in response to an article of mine from last week about the media’s unshakable obsession with partisanship in relation to the phenomenon of “vaccine hesitancy.” Glance at most popular coverage of the issue and you’d come away thinking that Republican voting inclination is the only relevant variable in why millions of Americans are “hesitant” to take COVID vaccines.
I don’t know about you, but my hunch when examining vaccine uptake data from around the country has long been that socioeconomic status — or, to put it more simply, class — is a highly salient factor, perhaps even dwarfing partisanship. And while race also does get mentioned a fair amount — among racial groups, blacks have the lowest predilection to get vaccinated — whatever racial disparities exist could easily be more a function of socioeconomic status than any intrinsically “racial” factor.
Issues of class tend to be less exciting than race and partisanship for the media to bicker amongst themselves about though, so it’s unsurprising that this would be mostly glossed over. And it should go without saying that the vast majority of people who work in the media/nonprofit/activism complex come from a very distinct socioeconomic stratum, hence why they often miss trends that derive from lower-class sensibilities with which they are unfamiliar, and seldom ever encounter.
The letter-writer below asked to remain anonymous for reasons that will become obvious once you begin reading. But most relevantly, he/she has direct firsthand experience with disparate vaccine uptake rates among differing socioeconomic groups, and proffers a theory explaining these disparities. The context here is a corporate one, but the dynamics referenced strike me as universalizable enough to potentially account for a large degree of overall “vaccine hesitancy.” And yet what he/she’s getting at is essentially never considered in US media squabbles.
I wouldn’t necessarily endorse every aspect of the conclusions proposed, but I endorse the worthiness of airing the opinion. Emails like this make the more “unkind” feedback I receive worth it!
Wanted to write to you to share an observation. It could well make for a worthwhile story, should you choose to pursue it, or maybe it’s something you could file in your mental knowledge rolodex for future use. Or maybe it’s useless and I’m wasting my time — if nothing else, I get to put my thoughts on paper. Please do not ever share my personal information, who I work for, locations where I work, or any other information that could possibly be used to identify me.
I am what is called a [REDACTED] for [FORTUNE 500 COMPANY] working in the supply chain domain; this includes manufacturing, logistics, and distribution. If you share any of this information, please do not share my job title, name, or company. My job is to work with high-level company executives to understand their overall corporate strategy ($300k+ annual types), then with low-level distribution center and factory workers ($12-$15 an hour types) to understand their day-to-day jobs — and then deliver complex, multi-dimensional technology solutions that execute on those strategic goals while making life easier for floor workers. I really cut across income levels every day.
I also make a point of presenting an unassuming persona that has much to learn and is highly curious — this generally signals to the majority of people I work with that they can both a) impart their knowledge willingly to me and b) more importantly, speak candidly. In order to know what I need to deliver in a technology solution, I must understand the needs of the affected parties up and down the corporate ladder. This method of communication has proven effective in getting people to open up about what’s important to them, what’s challenging in their day-to-day jobs, and what they think would make the operation better in some way.
Oftentimes, this unassuming persona is also disarming in a way that seems to make people feel comfortable sharing personal thoughts and stories with me, well beyond anything work-related. I’ve had C-suite executives open up to me about booze and weed fueled nights of scandalous behavior on work trips, and hourly laborers open up to me about dying relatives and 9/11 conspiracy theories. I take pride in listening and in not betraying their trust. As a result, I believe (perhaps arrogantly) that I am uniquely positioned to make observations about both groups of people. I think this is unique because it is a largely non-political arena; most of these people’s primary concern is not what a Democrat or Republican said that day, but things like how to make sure the operation is maximally efficient or how to make sure (as an hourly associate) he or she doesn’t have to stay late that evening.
I have noticed, with absolute clarity, a stark divide in vaccination behavior. I hop around between my home in [REDACTED] to our facilities in the South, Midwest, and on the West Coast. I can tell you that at each site, the picture is the exact same. [FORTUNE 500 COMPANY] has a program where you can shed the standard COVID protocols if you provide the company with your proof of vaccination.
Without fail, corporate management and executives are vaccinated at near 100% rates. Likewise without fail, hourly laborers (who are almost all white in the Midwest, almost all black in the South, and all mixed up on the West Coast) are vaccinated between 5% and 15% — and vaccinations are concentrated almost entirely in the old folks.
I have heard over and over that this is a political phenomenon. “Vaccine hesitancy is a problem of white Republicans, of course!”
But in reality, I don’t believe it has anything to do with race or political alignment — and everything to do with social class.
I read somewhere recently a tweet from someone who seemed insightful, who said that the centers of power in this country have so heavily relied on propaganda and psyops that the hierarchies that run those centers of power have themselves begun to select for people that are most likely to buy into the propaganda.
As a result, you don’t have an evil ruling class — just a delusional one that is entirely bought into its own narrative. The people who do not move up the ladder — though they may be competent and capable — are restricted by the fact that they do not buy the narrative.
If this is true, I think it makes absolute sense.
The people who are most likely to be “company men” — the people whose entire lives are defined by their status in a Fortune 500 organization, who are the most married to the corporate narrative, and who are the most likely to be absent critical thought (as all executives are — once you get to VP, you stop thinking your own thoughts and instead think only your shareholders’ or board’s thoughts) are the ones who are, almost universally, vaccinated.
The people who do not live in that world are, almost universally, not.
I have not seen one person break it down this way. I bet if you spent a week or two digging into the research on this, you’d see just how true it was in all of the numbers available to you.
Anyways — if that’s not worth your time, then no sweat. You seem like the kind of guy who would have an interest in this, though.
What I really like about this email is that it cuts through all the typical narrative gamesmanship and lands on something — spurred by this person’s direct personal experience — that has been largely unremarked upon in the whole “vaccine hesitancy” debate. If getting the vaccine burnishes your place within a corporate hierarchy, or some other institutional hierarchy of which you are apart, then of course you’re going to be more likely to get the vaccine.
But if you have essentially no hope of ascending a corporate/institutional hierarchy, and little investment in your “corporate culture” at all — because you ultimately experience it as a menial job to make ends meet — then of course you’re going to be less likely to get the vaccine. Makes total sense. Thus, “vaccine hesitancy” would seem to correlate with the strength of one’s institutional attachments.
Put another way, if you’re highly attached to an institution that prioritizes vaccination, then the effect on your uptake behavior is obvious. If you have no strong attachment to whatever institution you exist within — or even disdain said institution — then the behavioral effects are similarly obvious. You might even decline vaccination as a subtle “F you” to that institution.
Of course, it depends on the institution. Some less “mainstream” institutions may actually disincentivize vaccination. But that’s generally not going to be the case at a Fortune 500 company.
Importantly, the writer notes that according to his/her observations, this dynamic appears to transcend racial lines.
The person who sent me this email certainly isn’t infallible, and maybe others have contradictory observations. Either way, it calls for further inquiry and I’ll try to do that journalistically in the weeks ahead.
You can always email me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org (for a more secure line.) Constructive observations preferred, but you can also feel free to tell me I’m a piece of crap.
Programming note: I’ll be discussing this issue, as well as the civil liberties implications of the ongoing Andrew Cuomo sexual harassment fiasco, tonight (August 5) at 8pm EST on Rokfin.