TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A University of South Florida analysis of COVID-19 deaths found that nearly 70% of the deaths were among adults in low socioeconomic positions. It amounted to a likelihood of death five times higher than any other professional demographic, according to the study.
The study, the adults in that position were those who worked in labor, service and retail jobs, work that “require on-site attendance and prolonged close contact with others.” That group made up 68% of COVID deaths.
Dr. Jason Salemi, a USF College of Public Health Associate Professor, began an investigation of U.S. COVID-19 deaths using data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, according to a release by the university. The data used for the study was focused on COVID deaths in 2020.
The study analyzed data for roughly 70,000 adults who all died from COVID-19. Subjects ranged in age from 25 to 64 years old.
“The degree to which it takes a toll on communities is very unevenly distributed and we wanted to call attention to that issue,” Salemi said.
The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, showed the biggest two demographic groups to die to COVID-19 of the deaths analyzed were among white and Hispanic men. The research also focused on socioeconomic position and education level when analyzing death data.
According to the research published, those of lower socioeconomic positions and with lower levels of education were more likely to be at risk of COVID-19 mortality. Of the population studied, decedents were split into three groups, low, intermediate, and high SEP.
“As predicted, the majority of high-SEP adults had white collar jobs, and those of intermediate SEP were employed in a mixture of blue collar, service, retail sales, and white-collar jobs, with no category in the majority,” the study said.
Low SEP workers were, at least for the majority, employed in working-class, blue-collar jobs such as service or retail, “with no potential for remote work.”
The study data showed the most deaths of those analyzed occurred in the low SEP group. OF the 71,484 deaths studied, 46,966 were in the low SEP group, with 31,258 male versus 15,708 female in that population demographic. The SEP split included all racial demographics.
Across all demographic SEPs, women died at lower rates than men. Economic class was also a factor that played into the ability of residents to quarantine as COVID-19 spread, according to the study.
“In the case of COVID-19, socioeconomic resources and privileges create the flexibility and space for the deployment of multiple strategies to reduce and prevent exposure to the highly infectious airborne novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. People in privileged socioeconomic positions live in larger homes with fewer people and in less densely populated neighborhoods (whether horizontally spacious in the suburbs or vertically spacious in metropolitan downtown areas), and rarely use public transportation,” the study’s background summary said. “Additionally, the upper and professional classes have ready access to both high-quality outpatient health care and the best tertiary care hospital centers. College education and related forms of social capital facilitate navigation of a complex health care system.”
The USF analysis of the COVID-19 mortality data found the mortality rate among labor, retail, and service workers was five times higher than other professional demographics.
The study also said that people with higher socioeconomic status “retain a far greater degree of discretionary control over their professions, work lives, and daily schedules than workers of low SEP.” The higher professional status and possession of a college degree reportedly gave those workers in intermediate or high SEP more autonomy and flexibility when continuing to work during the pandemic.
By comparison, the study said the workers in low SEP jobs, such as those who work with physical labor, including in chemical or biologically hazardous professions, work conditions are “subjected to authoritarian control and inflexible requirements of work.”
Going forward, as COVID-19 continues to mutate to be more transmissible, adjusting behaviors in the community may have an impact on who is harmed by the virus, according to study authors.
“If we were to immediately heed the calls to return to ‘normal’ and stop worrying about community spread of the virus,” Salemi said. “There are certain subsets and members of our community who are going to suffer way more so than other members – and these people have already borne the disproportionate brunt of this pandemic.”