1918 influenza outbreak hit well-off residents as well as the poor

The CDC released new data this week that shed light on how the 1918 influenza epidemic affected working class and middle class residents during its peak. For example, just one in seven deaths recorded by the federal agency that year were for more well-off individuals.

“COVID-19 did discriminate,” said John M. Hull, professor of sociology at Quinnipiac University.

The chart above shows that wealthier residents were likely to live to a greater age when they were diagnosed with the disease. The median age of death for a COVID-19 case was 36 years old while for adults without health insurance it was 46 years old.

In addition, the graph below shows more recent data about disease mortality that uses data for the recession from the winter of 2009 to the spring of 2010. Because it covers a time period of a few months, it does not necessarily reflect the flu, but its flu-like index did increase among working class and middle class residents of the Washington, D.C. area.

The recession effect

While some evidence suggests the effects of the 2009-2010 recession lingered for several years, there is no evidence that it left the working class behind.

“These are the oldest people who have had access to medical care and will be working,” said Jane Myers, a professor of sociology at Stony Brook University in New York and author of “Wasted: Work and Death in the Twenty-First Century,” a book that examines people’s relationship to work and mortality. “Those that have been working through the recession and are now near retirement age, they are already experiencing the impacts of age. These are their last years.”

“Not to be insulting, but how could the parents of people in their twenties and thirties not be contemplating whether they will be able to afford care?” Myers said.

See all GeekWire’s coverage of influenza and CDC data in the video above.

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