Note: While I don’t make direct reference to doctors, nurses and other professionals on the front lines in this article, please know you all have my undying respect in what must be an unimaginable daily battle. This article specifically refers to at-or-near minimum wage workers who we, as a nation, so often disrespect. Many of these folks are exposing themselves daily to potential infection while making an unlivable wage. This, I believe, has to change.
They stock the shelves just before we tear everything off of them. They check us out so that we can leave the store, all stocked up for weeks of hunkering down.
They make our takeout food so that we may enjoy the delights of our favorite restaurant while feeling good about “supporting local.” They cash us out at the liquor store so that we can take the edge off these stressful days. They wash the floors of our hospitals. They care for the sick, the elderly, the impoverished. Like a soldier in wartime, they put their lives on the line every day so that the rest of us can be safe and healthy, and even enjoy a few pleasantries during this difficult period.
As the world tries to push through a new normal of social distancing, isolation and quarantine for the visible future, our low wage workers are on front lines of this unprecedented conflict with an invisible enemy. Teenagers and people of all ages working as grocery store cashiers, delivery workers, health care professionals, janitorial and support staff… their new normal must feel pretty “normal.” The luxury of working from home is not an option for the hospital janitor, the auto mechanic or the grocery store cashier… as has been the case throughout history, the humblest of earners are the greatest of heroes in times of crisis.
Not long ago, a large portion of our country opposed the notion that these folks should make a livable wage. A huge swath of our population jeered the news that food service workers, grocery store stockers and hospital custodians might make a minimum of $15 dollars an hour, even when late 1960s trends against inflation and economic growth suggest they should be making more than $20 per hour.
Suddenly, these workers are exposing themselves to the threat of infection so that we can hit up a drive through and get a Big Mac. They scan our grocery store items, stock the barren shelves and clean the surfaces of our grocery stores so that we can safely get the food we need. They are the delivery folks that bring us Grubhub so that we might support our local establishments and feel a sense of normalcy. These low wage workers enable the rest of us to hunker down and feel that we are doing our part to tackle this deeply disturbing health epidemic.
I have hope. Of course that hope is that we do what we need to in an effort to minimize the effects of this virus. But my other hope is that this time opens our eyes to the fact that we must NEVER take our minimum/low wage workers for granted. We must never see those who serve us as less important or less worthy of a livable paycheck. I truly hope that billionaires understand that they can live in unparalleled comfort because their lowest paid employees are on the front lines, tackling the realities of what it takes to supply a nation with what it needs to move forward.
This is a sensitive topic for me. This goes beyond cities or suburbs… this is about our nation and the potential for anyone to make an honest living. Just a month ago, who would have thought that our low-wage workers would be essential in keeping our economy running, keeping our spirits high, and keeping our families safe, healthy and well fed. It’s time to start thinking differently about income distribution, because our country has a new hero… the minimum low worker.