Sending Solidarity to the essential workers that have been overlooked for over a generation.
I got a haircut. I smelled the musky scent of my barbershop. Heard the clippers buzz, and conversed with my barber on everything from sports, to local food joints and racism in America. He handed me the handheld mirror and I was the most handsome version of myself. I tipped him an extra 20 bucks, because I appreciate him so much. Then I woke up. I realized halfway through this experience that I was dreaming, but I wanted to enjoy this experience that I hadn’t felt in so long. Then I realized something — this was my biggest problem during quarantine. I’ve been working from home and binge watching t.v. shows on Netflix and Hulu. I’ve been healthy and safe. Meanwhile, the most burdened people in this time, by far, have been the workers that were deemed essential. Not just the doctors, nurses, & law enforcement officers; more specifically, the grocery workers, food service workers, bank tellers, truck drivers, and many more. The problem is, that far too many of these essential workers aren’t receiving essential pay.
It’s not that my monthly hunt for toilet paper shouldn’t have annoyed me, it’s that I need to use my voice to advocate for the people who made it possible for that toilet paper to be there at all. I’ve found myself feeling down. I was supposed to go to my favorite amusement park the same week that my state got shut down. I’ve wanted to take impromptu trips to the bookstore, and, as I’ve already mentioned, I’ve needed a haircut for over a month. However, these are just the minor sacrifices that I’ve had to make in these times. I had to remind myself of the people that are sacrificing much more than me. Those that are literally being forced to risk their lives. They’re our front line soldiers in our war against the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of this, they should be adequately compensated for their sacrifices.
The Need for a Living Wage
I paid my rent four days ago. I didn’t have any worries about how I’d manage my other expenses. That same day, I went grocery shopping. I didn’t have to bite my nails when I saw that the total was nearing two hundred dollars. While I am far from rich, I am blessed enough to have an employer that values my life enough to pay me a living wage. I’ve felt horrible when I think about the fact that the very people who are making my trips to the grocery store possible don’t have that same security. This doesn’t mean that I should switch places with them, it means that we should all have that security. No person should be without housing, food, and running water. Not just during a global pandemic, but always. These are basic human rights that should be guaranteed to every person, but especially for those that are on the front lines sacrificing their health and safety for the rest of us.
These workers have been forced to put their lives on the line, oftentimes without the essential safety equipment, to keep our society and economy afloat. Tragically and unfortunately, many of them can’t afford to keep themselves afloat financially because they aren’t being paid a living wage. This pandemic has proved the worth that these workers have always had. They’re working during a pandemic because our society cannot function without them. This is because they were always essential. They’ve always kept our society functioning. They’ve always been vital to our economy even though our economy has completely left them behind.
It’s long past time to show these workers, and all workers, the dignity and respect that they deserve. Every worker deserves a living wage, because every worker helps our society function in some way. We often hear that low wage workers need to ‘pull themselves up by their own bootstraps’. What this pandemic has shown us is that these workers have been pulling our entire society up by its ‘bootstraps’. These people are some of the hardest working, and most vital, people in our economy. It’s time that we guarantee them their basic human rights.
“If you’re sick, stay home.”
Wages are not the only thing that are inadequate. Every worker in this country deserves paid sick leave as a right. Every person in this country deserves comprehensive healthcare that doesn’t place them into a precarious financial situation. As we’ve seen during the pandemic, an economy that forces workers into work while they are sick is a threat to the entire community. Not having paid sick leave and comprehensive healthcare forces many workers to work through their illnesses, and, in turn, jeopardize public safety. Telling these workers to stay home is great, but they also need the safety and security of sick leave and healthcare to support them as they recover. Only then will workers have the necessary freedom to do the right thing. Only then will calls for them to stay home if they’re not feeling well not fall hollow.
Separating Healthcare from Employment
Another major issue is the structure of our dysfunctional healthcare system. Healthcare should not be tied to employment. There are now 30 million unemployed Americans due to the emergence of the Coronavirus. The highest it’s been since the Great Depression. What this shows us is how unstable employment can be. There is no guarantee that your current job will be there for you next week during a pandemic, or outside of one. We are not too far removed from the 2008 financial crisis, yet here we are again. Before, during and after that recession though, layoffs have been a common theme in a wide range of sectors, but most notably in the industrial Midwest. With that said, layoffs aren’t the only thing that make our current healthcare system dysfunctional.
Many providers aren’t in network for certain insurers. Another layer to this, is that employers may often switch providers, which can cause a provider that an employee had been seeing for years to now be out of network. Healthcare is too much of a necessity to allow it to remain as unstable as it currently is. This pandemic has proven this to us, but COVID-19 is not the only illness that people need treated. Diabetes, Cancer and Heart Disease are just a few common diseases that people deal with whether or not there is a pandemic. All of these diseases take human lives. People struggling with any disease should not also have to worry about falling into financial ruin to get cured. Until our society guarantees these rights to all citizens, then we are putting ourselves at risk unnecessarily.
21st Century Bill of Human Rights
A living wage, adequate housing, healthcare, food, and running water are basic needs for our society today. No one should ever be without these necessities, during a pandemic or otherwise. Bills haven’t stopped even though peoples’ jobs have laid them off. Many laid off workers now make more money from unemployment than they did when they were at their jobs. This doesn’t mean that unemployment benefits have gone too far; rather, it means that wages have not gone far enough. Every worker benefits society. Ergo, every worker should have their basic necessities met. It is now undeniable that many of the overlooked, overworked, and underpaid members of the working class are absolutely vital to our economy. It is past time for our economy to be restructured with those workers, and their basic needs, as the top priority.