Social work professor expects perpetual shifts in social status during pandemic to be temporary


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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about transformative changes across society, including how people perceive social status, which professions are considered crucial, and how wealth is valued. Auburn Assistant Professor of Social Work Anthony Campbell says he expects some social and perceptual changes to be temporary, while permanent changes could include how we involve the use of technology for communication, education and health care. Campbell, who earned her doctorate from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, discusses the effects of the pandemic on the nation from various angles.

How has this pandemic affected and changed the way we as a society think about social status? It seems to have reminded us of the importance of “essential” workers like medical professionals, truckers, grocers, etc., more than celebrities or sports stars.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the differences in social status in the United States. Social status, a multifaceted concept that encompasses a variety of characteristics such as age, gender, race, and socioeconomic status (income, education, occupation, wealth), is used to determine the relative importance or position of an individual or group in society. For example, advanced age, as a social status, became the focus of attention early in the pandemic, when older people were thought to be most susceptible to the virus. This has influenced the general public’s perception that young people should not worry too much about contracting the virus. However, this perception belied the fact that young people could become carriers of the virus and transmit it to more vulnerable older people.

Additionally, racial and ethnic status has become a factor, as black and Hispanic populations in the United States have been disproportionately affected by the virus in terms of hospitalization and death rates. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined a number of factors that contribute to higher COVID-19 risk for racial and ethnic groups, including higher rates of underlying medical conditions, stigma and systematic inequalities, insufficient access to health care and a greater likelihood of being an “essential” worker, among many other factors. Consequently, pre-existing health disparities that affected people belonging to minorities have been further exacerbated by the pandemic.

During the pandemic, an “essential” workforce has been designated to continue providing basic and essential products and services. This long list of essential workers includes healthcare professionals, food service workers, grocery store employees, law enforcement, first responders, social workers, janitorial service workers, truck drivers, agricultural workers and many others. In the course of their work, all essential workers have been exposed to an increased risk of viral exposure, and indeed essential workers represent a considerable proportion of those who have contracted and died from the virus. During the massive national effort to minimize community spread of the virus, there has been an outpouring of community support and appreciation for essential workers, especially for healthcare workers and first responders on the front lines of the pandemic. The lowest-paid essential workers, like food service workers and agricultural workers, weren’t as famous, despite their significant contributions. Support for essential workers has been clearly expressed in a graduated manner according to professional status. We live in a status-oriented society in which we grant various professions different levels of prestige along a continuum. If our society values ​​essential workers, that value should be compensated accordingly for the essential work they do. Unless there is a major systematic change, it seems that any significant change in how professional status is perceived in our society, including that of low-paid essential workers, is temporary. As a society, we will likely continue to value and overcompensate celebrities and sports stars.

While views and priorities have shifted, it seems the standard status symbols of wealth might not carry as much weight as they once did. Have you seen any significant changes in how people perceive these symbols because of COVID-19?

The collective experience of this pandemic has transformative potential. There are speculations that younger generations living at this time in history may be reflexively changing the way they perceive attaining status. The standard status symbols of wealth (home ownership, higher education, owning a vehicle, and accumulating other material possessions) may not be as appealing to younger generations, but for now, this are just speculation.

Similarly, in terms of income inequality, I don’t see any significant long-term change in how wealth is viewed as a specific result of COVID-19. Instead, I would imagine a further reinforcement of existing socio-economic inequalities due to the prolonged economic impact of the pandemic. We live in a capitalist society where the gap between rich and poor has widened exponentially, and I don’t expect that trend to reverse anytime soon. The economic system is organized in such a way that wealthy people have the opportunity to use their resources to their advantage to compensate for financial losses and people without wealth continue to experience events that further limit their status (e.g. loss income, unemployment). I would further argue that, based on income and wealth as social determinants of health, people with fewer financial resources and less access to health care services will be more likely to experience adverse health consequences. health, directly or indirectly linked to the pandemic.

How do you think the pandemic has changed the way we value the really important parts of life, like family and friends? Has society’s dialogue on social conscience changed because of all this?

The pandemic has refocused many of our priorities and allowed many of us to reflect on what is most important in our lives. She certainly highlighted the strong influence of the social realm of life and the importance of human relationships, the latter being one of the core values ​​of the social work profession. Social connections are essential to our overall health and well-being.

Implementing physical distancing and home safety measures has produced beneficial social outcomes for many people due to increased quality time spent with immediate family and the identification of creative strategies to maintain social contact with friends and other family members. Unfortunately, adverse consequences have been suffered by vulnerable groups within our society. For example, some seniors may have become even more isolated than before, as many of the services that supported them are no longer available. Additionally, caregivers and family members are also adhering to physical distancing restrictions and are unavailable for hands-on support. Families may also experience difficulties due to unemployment, financial difficulties and disruptions in routines which may make it harder for them to focus on socialization and family growth. Disruptive situations such as domestic violence, abuse and neglect are expected to increase during the pandemic.

What lasting changes do you see for society as a whole, at least in how we view others, as a result of the shutdown and the pandemic?

Although it is unclear what permanent societal changes may occur as a result of the pandemic, it is evident that the experience of COVID-19 has a direct impact on everyone’s life, regardless of social status. Human beings are resilient and adapt to changes in their environment. A major change that I believe will be permanent is the increased use of technology for communication, education, healthcare and other sectors. In terms of personal communications, people have had to get creative with how they connect with friends and family during quarantine and physical distancing measures. Another change that I hope permanent is a greater proportion of the population understanding how health is intergenerational, so that the health of younger populations directly affects the health of older populations. Understanding how everyone is socially connected will benefit everyone, including the most vulnerable among us. Finally, a renewed interest in social ties and social isolation should lead to new research on the subject to assess the impacts of these social factors at the individual, family, community and societal levels. Findings could shed light on the challenges of maintaining social connections in times of stress, identify innovative solutions to address these challenges, and provide lessons on how we as individuals and our society as a whole can respond. differently in future pandemics.


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