The Pandemic Can Empower Us to Demand Change
First published on April 6, 2020
I am a firm believer that every experience provides a lesson – or an affirmation of a lesson learned.
As COVID-19 takes the world by storm and has changed life as we knew it, what have we learned or affirmed?
Many of us have affirmed that our mothers were right when they said: wash your hands; cover your cough or sneeze; stay home when you’re not feeling well; avoid close contact with people who are sick; clean and disinfect.
We have learned that grocery and convenience store workers, custodians and housekeepers, fast food workers, gas station workers, home care and child care workers, etc. are considered “essential” workforce.
I find it not only disgraceful, but immoral, that these workers don’t make a living wage.
There is something terribly wrong when we expect “valuable” workers to stand on the front line during this pandemic but fail to pay them wages that support the dignity of a decent lifestyle. Sure, some of the large corporations who employ some of these workers have committed to a TEMPORARY hourly increase of a few dollars (still not enough to qualify as a living wage) that will disappear soon – outrageous!
(They can manage to pay their CEOs astounding sums while still recording multi-billion-dollar profits; but they continue to elbow their underpaid workers toward government assistance offices and food banks and clinics for food and health care, rather than pay them a living wage).
Even the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package will not provide the “relief” that is needed for underpaid essential workers. While the boost from a relief check or an additional unemployment insurance benefit is welcome, let’s be honest: It’s temporary and insufficient!
The promised (lest we forget many are struggling to get state unemployment benefits) $600 extra weekly unemployment benefit is equivalent to a $15 hourly wage minimum — but to collect it, you have to be laid off.
And the stimulus package doesn’t mandate a comparable wage floor for workers who are still on the job – still on the front line (does this even make sense?).
Policymakers have always been slow to address an unjust economic system that increasingly widens the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”.
The truth is that the federal minimum wage stands at $7.25 and hasn’t been increased since 2009 and policymakers never seem to be interested in what is best for the neediest Americans. News flash: Times of economic hardship have always increased the unequal standing of the most vulnerable Americans.
If we can learn to rapidly and drastically transform the way we live, work, and travel amid this pandemic, we surely can create a system of requiring a fair wage for all American workers – especially our underpaid “essential” workers — so that they have the freedom to live decent, independent, dignified lives.
As we experience shelter in place, lockdown, and quarantine and rediscover the absolute importance of underpaid essential workers, take time to put into perspective their value, related to hedge funders, investment bankers, and billionaire owners of multinational corporations (who have escaped to their bunkers).
Could it be that this pandemic is an occasion to revise the economic reward that each gets from society and to revisit issues like the distribution of wealth, fair taxation, and increased welfare (a social effort to promote the physical and material well-being of people in need)?
Could it be that this pandemic can empower us to demand a much-needed transformation of systems that are in crisis?