It shouldn’t come as a shock, even during a pandemic, that the wealthy and powerful will stick it to the working class at every turn. But in this situation, sticking it to the working class means not sticking them with vaccines.
by Mick Theebs
After several weeks of debate, the Connecticut state government finalized its latest version of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout on February 22, 2021, expanding initially from an age-based system to one that includes pre-K to 12th grade teachers, school staff, and childcare providers in addition to the already eligible medical staff and first responders. Our vaccines per capita have swelled to the point where, as of April 30th, 37.89% of Connecticut’s population is fully vaccinated, a rate that is second only to Maine’s 38.49%.
On its face, these are all unequivocally good things. Teachers are important. School staff and childcare providers are important. They should be getting the vaccine. After all, the past year of pandemic has irreversibly disrupted the education of an entire cohort of students. Considering that the children learning today are going to be the ones to work on solving the problems we’re creating now, it’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure they are well educated.
With that in mind, I’m suspicious that this decision to vaccinate teachers is not solely coming from a place of appreciation for education. Seeing as people’s feelings on educators whiplashes between thinking every teacher is a hero who needs to be paid $100,000 a year and thinking every teacher is an incompetent failure indoctrinating our children, it’s a little unclear why teachers are being prioritized now.
However, when you look at the education system through the lens of schools as basically being publicly funded daycare, the prioritization of teachers, school staff, and childcare workers makes a little more sense. That is to say, we can’t hustle back to “business as usual” if non-essential workers, such as people with white collar jobs who have been working remotely, don’t have a place to park their children for the day. And children can’t be herded back into schools where they are packed into rooms at 20-35 a clip if the teachers and staff are just going to get infected, incapacitated, and possibly die from Covid-19.
This, in turn, also helps to explain why all the other essential workers aren’t being prioritized, particularly the minimum wage employees who have been stocking our shelves, sanitizing our surfaces, and generally putting themselves in harm’s way for not nearly enough money. Certainly, there is a scarcity of vaccinations available and we do need to triage who gets doses first, so it’s realistic to expect that some people are going to have to wait.
Still, even with this in mind, the choice to vaccinate anyone from 55 and up, including those who have been working from home this entire time, and leave out all the people who just a few months ago were being lauded as essential heroes being applauded from balconies bravely sacrificing their own wellbeing to keep things going is… a little puzzling.
Well, not really.
Things become much clearer when one examines the net worth of people who are 55 and up. And unsurprisingly, they are… not poor on average. Based on a 2016 Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, people who are in the 55-64 age bracket have “a mean net worth [of] $1.17 million” and a “median [of] $187,300” and people in the 65-74 bracket have “a mean net worth [of] $1.07 million” and a “median [of] $224,100.”
Of course, we must take these numbers with a grain of salt. The pandemic has changed many people’s financial situations and certainly not everyone over the age of 55 in Connecticut is a millionaire. But the fact remains that this group of people, the 55 and up crowd, most likely includes some of the wealthiest people in the state. Of course, elderly populations are more vulnerable to Covid-19, more likely to suffer from comorbidities that make Covid-19 more dangerous, and more likely to die from Covid-19 as a whole and need to be protected.
But it still seems off that a 55-year-old working from home can get a vaccine shot before an 18-year-old who has been stocking shelves with the food we eat.
In most other situations, such as providing aid for people in poverty, lawmakers will twist themselves into knots developing complicated systems of means-testing to ensure that nobody “unworthy” of aid might accidentally have their material conditions improve a little. In this situation, with an actual scarcity of vaccines, it’s odd that they decided to throw the doors wide open for anyone over the age of 55 and not at least try to filter out people who can stand to work from home or shelter in place for another couple weeks.
It’s odd until one recalls the most critical value of this country that guides all policy and supersedes any other need: that property and wealth and the people who hold it must be protected at all costs. And with that in mind, the decision to prioritize vaccinating teachers to allow non-essential white-collar workers to offload their children and return to work in-person—only to resume being monitored and more directly controlled by their managers and bosses—as well as the decision to prioritize vaccinating the wealthiest age bracket in the state makes perfect sense. It just comes at the expense of the heroes who do all the essential work for peanuts.