What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.
―C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew
There have been quite a few provocative perception phenomena in recent years.
A visual example is #TheDress, and an audio example is Yanny vs. Laurel―both wrecked the internet.
The dress was seen as white and gold by 57% in a study devoted to this visual illusion. But it was actually black and blue. So those who saw the true colors could stick out their tongues and sing, Na-na-na-boo boo!
Laurel was heard by more than half of over 500,000 respondents to a Twitter poll. (And, this die-hard Yanny girl begrudgingly admits they were right.)
Auditory and visual illusions are fun for the whole family as they drive home the lesson that reality is different depending on how we perceive it.
Despite the scientific explanations for why we see and hear things differently, the bottom line is that sometimes we get it wrong. It doesn’t matter that your brain is screaming white and gold; the true colors of that darn dress are black and blue.
This can be true of our perceptions of facts and situations as well. We sometimes see things as they are, and sometimes…not so much.
A study by Zety just came out called, The Inequality Virus: COVID’s Impact on Jobs & the Economy, which shows the variety in the way people viewed the pandemic’s detrimental effects on American’s state of unemployment and economic equality, and juxtaposed that with the facts.
The results show splits analogous to the dress and Yanny vs. Laurel.
Views on the Covid-Induced Recession
We all know the pandemic has wreaked havoc on many industries. Every state was impacted significantly.
It stands to reason that the steep increase in U.S. unemployment was positively correlated with the rise of the pandemic…or does it?
Here’s the opinion of 41% of the respondents in the Zety study:
Perception: Those job losses during the pandemic were due to poor job performance―not the pandemic itself.
Reality: The unemployment rate peaked in April 2020 to an unprecedented level of 14.8%―a percentage not seen since 1948, when data collection started for unemployment during the pandemic.
How’s that for skewed perception?
So, all you hotel and restaurant workers who lost your jobs in 2020: if only you’d worked harder serving all those non-existent customers, you’d probably still have that job. (The sound you hear is the drip-drip of the sarcasm.)
Participants’ perceptions of income gaps between various groups also yielded some head-scratching results as well.
Opinions on the Economic Toll on Women
Here’s where the perception/reality divide grew even wider in the study.
They inquired into the views of whether the pandemic will affect one sex more than the other financially.
Perception: Less than a quarter of respondents believed monetary inequalities between men and women would increase.
Reality: The increase in financial inequality is already apparent between men and women, and it seems the trend will continue.
The fact is that women typically work in the retail and hospitality industries. Which industries were hardest hit by COVID? Right, the same ones. Nothing like losing your job to take a hit financially.
Another unfortunate reality is that fewer women could work from home during lockdowns due to the nature of their work. The Zety study also cites McKinsey & Company’s estimate that women’s jobs are 19% more at risk than men’s.
On the Future of Racial Economic Inequality
The respondents were asked if they believed that inequality would increase “between racial and ethnic groups.”
Perception: Less than half believed that inequality would increase among racial groups.
Reality: According to the Economic Policy Institute’s analysis of unemployment in 2020:
…while unemployment rates fell for all groups over the third and fourth quarters, Hispanic unemployment remained 60% higher than white unemployment, while Black unemployment rose from 60% higher to 90% higher. Unemployment levels for Black and Hispanic Americans was greater than for whites.
Interestingly, more than half of the Republicans’ perception in the study was that the pandemic affected all races equally. Just 31% of Democrats thought that to be true.
Of course, our worldview is influenced by our political affiliations.
The financial consequences of COVID-19 are distributed unevenly and disproportionately affecting Black Americans. One devastating reason is that Black Americans’ mortality rates are more than twice the rate of whites.
The bottom line: the labor market is unsteady for Blacks and Hispanics when the economy is strong and precarious when it isn’t.
The Great Recession was a history lesson regarding how unemployment levels played out for various racial and ethnic groups. One of the lessons: Black and Hispanic households lost 48% and 36% of their wealth, whereas white households lost just 24%.
Unfortunately, the bottom line is that those facing economic insecurity will most likely be in a worse situation; those who were financially comfortable will have increased prosperity.
We all hear and see things differently based on a myriad of factors. Our views on inequality, in general, may or may not reflect the reality of the situation.
The study asked respondents a number of other questions, some showing a more unified vision in some areas, and perceptions that matched what reports conclude.
Seeing the black and blue dress as white and gold doesn’t mean you’re color blind. It just means there are unconscious factors at play―same with our perceptions that contradict current data and expert predictions.