I am fortunate to be on paternity leave from work at this time, but I imagine that for majority of Americans, the advice to stay and work from home to protect themselves from the coronovirus pandemic is an impossible ask.
This applies to me too. If I wasn’t on my paternity leave, I would have to go to my job Mondays through Fridays, which for me is a shelter for homeless families near my home. I am a social worker for about 40 families at the shelter. There is no work-from-home from social service workers like me. Same goes for all other kinds of staff at the site: the security guards, maintenance workers, childcare and daycare staff, educational coordinators, office administrators, cooks that prepare food for kids in our onsite childcare center, nurses, therapists, and doctors. They have to be onsite to provide support and services to families residing at the shelter and for residents of the community who utilize the services at our site.
Not to mention that the shelter is only small aspect of a network of services that needs to work in tandem. To monitor the wellbeing of children at the shelter and to provide applicable support to parents who are struggling, the shelter coordinates with ACS (Administration for Children’s Services) workers. When there are medical emergencies, ambulance drivers come and take them to hospitals operated 24/7 also by staff that can’t work from home such as drivers, cafeteria workers, CNAs, nurses, doctors, and the like. For serious incidents police officers come to the site. School bus drivers come to pick up kids in the morning and drop off kids in the afternoon. There are landlords and brokers that the shelter communicates with so that eventually the shelter residents can move out to a more permanent living situation. There are lawyers and legal advocates who represent families at the shelter who have pending legal matters. There are HRA benefits specialists who process a resident’s public assistance and food stamp cases. For families to get anywhere they use public transportation services operated by train conductors and bus drivers, maintained by sanitation workers and electricians and engineers. None of these workers can just stay and work from home.
My wife works as a city employee. Non-profit public servants are needed onsite for various reasons. There are tens of thousands of public servants who cannot afford to stay at home indefinitely.
I think of the shelter residents themselves. My clients are the type of people who work as a cashier in White Castle, as home health aides, as a packer in Amazon warehouses. Most are single mothers who have to out daily to do grocery shopping and to accompany their children to school. I know a client who is a driver, and a client who is a sales rep for a cell phone store. I think of how staying at home instead of working would not be a choice. They are already homeless and poor, working hard for low wages in the desperate hopes that someday soon they won’t be homeless anymore. To ask them to stay home is to ask them to give up on or postpone even more of that basic dream.
Even beyond the families and the workers at my job, let’s think about what the majority of Americans do for a living. Majority of Americans don’t do office jobs and software jobs that allow them to work from home. They are truck drivers, cashiers, servers, janitors, and the like. The entire economy also relies on farmers, factory workers and people who work in the oil and energy industry.
This global pandemic will impact majority of Americans. Telling them to stay at home will not be a solution to anything. This is a public health crisis. It will also be an economic crisis for the whole country in a way that far surpasses the housing crisis in 2006-2007.
We need to think about these majority of workers who can’t afford to stay home for an indefinite amount of time. Even many of the people who don’t work but rely on Social Security/SSI/SSDI don’t have a good enough support system or technological familiarity to be able to just stay home. The government really needs to invest in us and help us in this time of crisis.
So far what’s been told to us is that Europeans are banned from traveling to USA and that corporate leaders got $1.5 trillion in payroll tax credits. The pandemic has been treated like a hoax that will go away and health services and testing has been severely rationed.
This a worrisome future. Nothing is more terrifying than an uncertain future.
I don’t mean to be so pessimistic and a debbie downer here. I just write to remind myself and anyone else who reads this that the American economy is an interconnected one. This is a time that requires us to have solidarity with one another and empathy towards one another. We can’t just stay home and wish this pandemic away.