When I began this piece, the morning of March 13, 2020, five states across the nation had closed schools due to concerns over Covid19. Just four hours later, that number rose to seven schools and the District of Columbia closing schools to aid in the social distancing that is needed to stop the spread of Covid19 through communities and states in this country. In other states, this has been a district-by-district and community-by-community response.
The school closures have made this virus seem very real to me, my family, and the students and colleagues I work with at our school. However, despite these closings, and the anxiety they are producing beyond the existing concerns, Covid19 is not the greatest threat our nation faces. Instead, I would argue, it’s shedding light, again and hopefully more brightly, on the larger problem our nation faces.
- Do you realize that over 20 million children in These United States rely on the breakfast, lunch, and sometimes even dinner they receive at school as their only source of meals?
- Do you realize that over 1.7 million people in These United States are hourly wage earners who make $7.25 per hour or less?
- Do you realize that nearly 78 million people in These United States are hourly workers in general?
- I’m sure you realize that workers here in These United States who have hourly jobs often get paid less and have fewer, if any benefits, than those of us who have salaried positions.
I’m writing this acknowledging I occupy a place of privilege in These United States that not everyone has. I want to put that out the front and center. I have a salaried job in education and have paid sick leave. I am a military spouse and I and our family have access to healthcare. If the schools shut down, even though my husband will not be able to stay home from his job in The United States Navy, I will be able to be at home with our daughter and not worry about: food on the table, who will care for her, lost wages.
So while there are arguments happening over whether or not to cancel marathons, sporting events, large gatherings (and arguments over what constitutes large), and schools, and while Covid19 and the spread of this virus is a very real problem facing us, I want to call our attention to the larger problem – the reason why so many arguments out there are taking place.
According to research from The Pew Research Center, The United States has the highest rate of income inequality out of all the G7 nations. Beyond that, while the economy seems to be, at least in some numbers games, doing increasingly well, in Prosperity Now’s January 2020 Scorecard 40% of households in These United States are one paycheck away from poverty.
I get that some are having the argument because they had tickets to that sporting event, or they had planned on going to the theater this weekend, or they have been training for months for that marathon (hey, me too!).
But the real arguments – the really important arguments – aren’t about those things at all.
- They are arguments about the hourly wage earners who, when we cancel those events, lose wages.
- They are arguments about the hourly wage earners who, when we cancel some areas like school (which we are doing), cannot take time off to be home with their children.
- They are arguments about the children of hourly wage earners who, now without school and potentially without parents at home, are left scared and hungry and unattended for large portions, if not all, of their day.
- They are arguments about the hourly wage earners who have no other choice but to take time off to be home with their children and so, with that loss of income, will have even more difficulty than before making ends meet, with food and housing.
- They are arguments about the very real income disparities that exist for people in our communities.
Covid19 is a very serious, very real problem for us all, globally and nationally. People are justifiably concerned and appropriately responding with an abundance of caution. And I appreciate the proactive nature with which many of our communities are handling the situation: shutting down events, closing schools, discouraging large gatherings.
But, I think we need to acknowledge that there are larger, more systemic problems that Covid19 virus is bringing up for so many.
As our nation is currently facing this Covid19 health crisis, and dealing with the uncomfortable decisions and realities that comes with them, I feel it is unconscionable of us to not recognize, acknowledge, and act on the deeper and more dangerously insidious virus that is present with us all day every day: the income inequality in These United States that, when a global and national crisis like Covid19 arises, plummets those in our communities who are already at risk into deeper and more desperate times.
Sources cited for this piece:
Schaeffer, Katherine. “6 Facts about Economic Inequality in the U.S.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 7 Feb. 2020, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/02/07/6-facts-about-economic-inequality-in-the-u-s/.
Wiedrich, Kasey, and David Newville. “VULNERABILITY IN THE FACE OF ECONOMIC UNCERTAINTY.” Prosperity Now, prosperitynow.org/sites/default/files/resources/2019_Scorecard_Key_Findings.pdf.