Long before the coronavirus descended on all of us, low-wage workers were struggling to survive.
No paid sick leave. No family leave. Real incomes on the decline. Housing costs out of control. No access to affordable healthcare in many states. No ability to save for the future or their children’s education.
The so-called “best economy ever” already felt more like the biggest farce ever for nearly half of all Americans. And that was BEFORE the coronavirus began to grind the American economy to a halt.
Many low-wage workers are still being told they should self-quarantine if they get sick without any way to earn an income. Go to work and put others at risk or stay home and watch your family go hungry. That’s the choice we are giving millions of Americans who still don’t have access to paid sick time — even after Congress’s recent actions to provide temporary assistance. Millions more Americans also find themselves working for larger companies who provide less sick time than the 14-day quarantine required under the coronavirus.
We’re not talking about the fringes of American society here either. Nearly 44 percent of American workers earn low-wages and are particularly vulnerable in this moment– with many working in minimum wage jobs. While costs have continued to go up, 21 states still default to the federal minimum of $7.25, which has not changed since George W. Bush was president more than a decade ago. Many Americans simply don’t have the savings to take weeks off work or purchase food and supplies to prepare for the coronavirus and its path of destruction.
Complicating matters further, 8.5 percent of Americans still don’t have access to healthcare and 14 states still haven’t expanded Medicaid to help workers with lower-paying jobs afford medical treatments, prescription drugs, or even basic doctor visits.
This is the reality of America for so many of our families, friends, and neighbors, and it has been ignored for far too long.
The coronavirus will not discriminate among us. It will come after the rich and poor, the young and old, those in cities and those in rural areas. But the economic and secondary impacts caused by the virus will certainly hit lower-wage workers and their families far harder than others, and our elected leaders must respond to the crisis with both short and long term solutions to fix what ails our nation.
The Fairness Project has worked to pass minimum wage increases, deliver paid sick time, and expand Medicaid in states around the country. Since 2016, we’ve delivered improvements to 15 million Americans and put more than $12 billion back into workers’ pockets, but so much more must be done.
Our political leaders need to either step up and help us confront the issues that have led to the vast income inequality in American society or they need to get out of the way of those of us who are willing to do so.
The next few weeks and perhaps even the next few months will not be easy. We’re going to need to take care of each other and look out for those who are less fortunate than ourselves. But as we emerge from this pandemic (and we will), we must finally start to tackle the systemic problems and challenges that have put so many Americans at risk.
If you are ready to be part of the permanent solution, please click here to join us in our fight for social and economic justice.