Our Grocery Store Riddle Is (Partially) Solved

Aha! Reader JK emails to propose a solution to the mystery of the healthy grocery workers. It didn’t occur to me that there was a source that broke down grocery workers by age, but in the era of the internet there’s a source for everything. The numbers here are from 2008, but I don’t imagine they’ve changed a lot since then. You can combine them with the CDC’s numbers for coronavirus deaths by age group here. What you get is this:

Take a look at the top line. Those aged 16-24 make up 29.4 percent of all grocery workers. Out of 3 million total workers, that comes to 882,000 people. The CDC says the death rate in that age cohort is 0.16 per million, which means we’d expect about 0.14 deaths among all grocery workers of that age. Now do that for all age groups and add them up. You get a total expected death toll of 27 out of 3 million.

In reality, there have been 41 deaths, about 50 percent higher than you’d expect from that age distribution.

This is still a guesstimate, and there are obviously other factors that might be at work. But by using more detailed demographic data, it looks like grocery workers really do skew quite young and should be dying at a pretty low rate. Their higher-than-expected rate is presumably due to being exposed to the virus far more than the general population.

Now, I still think there’s a bit of a mystery here. Grocery workers are exposed to the general population for eight or more hours per day with little protection. Social distancing is difficult; shoppers don’t all wear masks; and transmission risk should be high. And yet the death rate is only 50 percent higher than expected? I’m not being callous here: I know that 50 percent represents a lot of people. But epidemiologically speaking, wouldn’t you expect a bigger difference than that between, essentially, no countermeasures (grocery stores) and full countermeasures (rest of the world)?

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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