As the coronavirus pandemic took the world by surprise this year, the country’s workforce was put into a difficult situation.
While most businesses shut down to avoid spreading the virus, some had to remain open through the pandemic as they were labeled essential.
What exactly qualifies as an essential worker?
The label of an essential worker varies from state to state, but according to the U.S. Department of Homeland security, “essential workers are those who conduct a range of operations that are typically needed to continue critical infrastructure operations.”
There are some obvious professions that should be labeled as essential to society, such as, health care workers, law enforcement or first responders, and food and ag workers.
The line of essential becomes more blurred as we see minimum wage workers being forced to work at jobs that are necessarily needed for survival during a pandemic.
Must fast-food restaurants stay open while grocery stores are there to supply us with food?
Is it essential for retail stores to remain open, so people can buy new clothes, at a time when everyone is encouraged to remain at home?
Leonard, a retail worker that has not stopped working through the pandemic, shared his thoughts on if feels his job is essential states, “No, it’s not. You don’t need clothes to survive a pandemic.”
“I think my job could be labeled essential for high-risk people that can’t go out and get their own food.” stated Jacob, a pizza delivery worker, “but I still feel that there are ways to order groceries nowadays and have them delivered so that I don’t have to put myself at risk too.”
Mercedes, an employee at an auto parts store, also sees both sides of the term essential from her job. “I see my job as essential because what if there’s a doctor or someone important that needs a part for their car to get to work, but I don’t feel that I see people coming into the store for only essential items. I’ve had customers coming in and leisurely shopping for things that can wait until after the pandemic.”
The economy is now in a difficult situation as small businesses have been forced to close their doors, most closing for good, and big businesses have been allowed to bend the rules to remain open.
Some may argue that these minimum wage workers should be happy to be employed at a time when most people had no choice but to lose their jobs at the hands of the pandemic.
Although it’s questionable how much of a choice these “essential workers” really have been given.
These workers have two choices. Put themselves at risk of catching the virus every day at work, or quit their job and attempt to rely on the government’s unemployment plan and nonexistent stimulus plan to pay their bills.
With no real relief funding in place these workers can’t afford to quit their jobs and fall behind on their bills. As most minimum wage workers are living paycheck to paycheck before the financial strains of the pandemic.
Leonards view on why he continues to go to work, “my bills didn’t quit so why should.” he continued, “I don’t feel that the government can consistently support me financially right now and I have a mortgage payment that needs to be paid every month.”
Jacob also is wary of government support, “I make more money going to work right now than I would make on unemployment and I still want to keep my job after the pandemic. So quitting doesn’t seem like an option right now.”
With a vaccine on the way, the country is hoping to put the pandemic behind us and return everyone to work safely. Until that time employees will continue to work and continue to put their health at risk.