It’s fitting that Easter, honoring one who made the ultimate sacrifice, fell late this year. Most of us have come to terms with the problems COVID-19 has brought our families and are ready to recognize the sacrifices that others are making in the battle to stop this worldwide pandemic.
As Pope Francis said Palm Sunday in a nearly empty St. Peter’s Basilica, “Dear friends, look at the real heroes who come to light in these days: they are not famous, rich and successful people; rather, they are those who are giving of themselves in order to serve others.”
Health care workers come to mind immediately: men and women who day after day, with totally inadequate protective gear, swab nostrils for those seeking COVID-19 tests and monitor vital signs, clean bodies, serve meals, and, yes, empty bedpans for the very ill.
Health care workers now make up more than 10% of Idaho’s 1,400+ confirmed cases.
And with time we’re coming to appreciate many others. Everyone who serves a number of strangers each day is at risk. We’re growing aware of the bravery of workers at groceries, pharmacies, and hardware stores, at laundromats and gas stations, and at motels and child care centers. And we’re realizing the very real sacrifices made by those who travel to where they’re needed—police, firemen, maintenance workers, journalists, and drivers supplying stores and delivering mail orders.
It’s regrettable that the initiative to see that all of these workers receive a living wage was an early casualty of the isolation order. Yes, there are people facing danger for us who make $7.25 an hour. I wouldn’t be surprised if the hourly wage for the majority is under the $12 an hour that 33,000 Idahoans hoped to make the minimum. (OK, I’m dreaming that some of our legislators will take the hint and pass a minimum wage bill next session.)
All labor has dignity, but that erodes rapidly when one can’t put some meat on the table or take the kids to a movie. As a people, we’re almost better at recognizing the worth of unpaid work caring for family—children, the elderly, and the disabled—than of work that’s poorly paid. Many insist that the pay is low because the work doesn’t require skill, and then complain whenever it’s done poorly.
While we admire those whose jobs are deemed essential, we mustn’t fail to recognize the difficulties for those laid off. As many government workers learned when Congress has deadlocked over budgets, it’s hard to accept that your job is non-essential.
Please remind friends that their jobs are only considered non-essential for the short term. Every job out there is essential to someone or it wouldn’t exist (e.g. my hair is doing strange things).
Idaho’s unemployment rate for February was 2.7%; today it’s probably close to 12.7%. It’s a drop that has never been equaled in speed or numbers.
Fortunately, unemployment insurance is being extended to cover individuals who are self-employed or independent contractors. Before, if workers who didn’t have employers paying the insurance, got nothing. In 2010 I talked with child care workers, repairmen, and real estate agents who technically had their jobs but had lost their income. There was no help for them.
Now that employment services are stretched to the limit, I imagine help won’t be coming fast, but it will come.
Please stay safe. Keep in touch with friends and family. Appreciate this beautiful spring weather. And stay confident that a better day is coming.