Essential Workers At High Risk During COVID-19 Pandemic

Margaret Valenti writes about an inequality the minimum wage and essential workers face on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo by Hyejin Kang/ Adobe stock

Minimum wage and essential workers have no choice but to be on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle. Right now, most of the country relies on them for everything that is necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic — food, toilet paper, medical care, sanitizing and cleaning supplies, etc. For people who live paycheck to paycheck, getting sick might mean many hungry nights for themselves and their families, a situation they dread to even consider. 

In the U.S., the working class cannot afford to get sick, and despite the stimulus bill many still cannot afford the luxury of staying home with a mandate to continue working amid this crisis. These workers run an enormous risk of contracting COVID-19 due to their working conditions, with the possibility of dying. 

I will be frank 

New York City Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez already wrote in a newsletter that the current stimulus package does not do enough for minimum wage and essential workers.

 “I will be frank - I believe working families deserve far more. I am urging Congress to return to D.C. as soon as possible to pass paid sick leave; a mortgage and rent moratorium; a debt moratorium; additional support for New York state’s emergency response; free health care for those infected by the virus; and real relief for all immigrant families”, she wrote.

 It is likely that Congress and the Senate will draft more bills and even more money will go into combating the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.

 Many minimum-wage workers cannot afford to lose a day of work, yet they face the most risk of losing their jobs. The attitude is that one can always find more workers later, and right now businesses are forced to make tough choices about who to let go based on the current situation causing them to close their doors. 

The story here is that lives are on the line. People’s livelihoods, their jobs, their families and their health, and yet after this crisis, the most privileged will continue to treat these people as replaceable just as many did before and just as many are now. The reality is that a lot of people owe essential and minimum wage workers their lives and yet they are the most at risk during this crisis. That is the system we live in. Our system puts those who are most in greater risk.

Essential workers need more from America 

The crisis makes some realize how much they rely on people who work so hard for so little, and in the time of crisis, these are the people most affected. The poorest among us will be the hardest hit by this virus. The reality is, for many Americans COVID-19 does not allow them to escape the lives they lived before. It will not be surprising to see in the future a call for the protection of workers and the raising of the minimum wage.

In the past, lawmakers did not heed the call to improve people’s lives and value the work of those who put food on the table and provide many U.S. residents with necessities such as electricity, food, and fuel. The real question is whether this crisis is enough to change the will of the government to act for the people. 

It is beyond time that the efforts of the working class become recognized and respected on a federal level and that they receive what they deserve, a living wage, health care, and the thanks of a nation. Once this crisis is over, the U.S. government must change its attitude in relation to all essential workers in the country, valuing their lives as equal to any citizen in the best and worst of times.

 

 


 

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