Essential Workers are Dying So the Rest of us Can Live (and Work) in Comfort
Thank you, essential workers.
I live a mostly sheltered and non- “essential” life, working from the comfort of a home office. Although I do contribute to society, my work is definitely less important than the work of healthcare providers, workers in food manufacturing plants, waste management workers, janitors, restaurant staff, and other essential workers. None of us can live without their live-saving and life-sustaining work; they are the ones keeping us alive, fed, clean, and moving during this pandemic (as always)!
Working from home is not perfect
There can be feelings of isolation and Fear of Missing Out (F.O.M.O.) while working from home. Sometimes the internet is less stable than it would be working in an employer’s office space. Some may find themselves working all alone from a bedroom dresser. Bedroom furniture is not designed for office productivity but for some, that dresser may be the only flat surface that allows the privacy needed to work. Remote new hires worry that they have no way to distinguish themselves from all the other new hires who are onboarding via a Zoom picture gallery.
But working from home is much safer than working in close proximity to others
Working from home is an advantage during the COVID-19 pandemic. And those enjoying this advantage tend to also be higher wage earners. 61.5% of top income earners in the United States could work from home, while only 9.2% of those in the bottom 25% could do so.
Essential workers are at a higher risk of COVID-19 infection than people like me who work from home. As. Dr. Mary. Basset, Director of Harvard University’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, puts it, “…we just haven’t acknowledged that those of us who have the privilege of continuing to work from our homes aren’t facing those risks.” The folk at VisualCapitalist.com created this visualization that tells the whole story. Workers in the low pay/highest risk quadrant include nursing assistants, home health aides, bus drivers, and childcare workers, among others.
People of color are more likely to be essential workers who don’t work from home
One of the persistent findings about COVID-19 in the United States, is that people of color (Black / African American, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American) make up a larger proportion of those who become infected and die, than would be expected from their representation in the population as a whole. The Center for Disease Control has observed that Hispanic Americans accounted for 24.2% of COVID-19 deaths between May and August 2020, although they comprise only 18.5% of the population. Black Americans, who make up about 12% of the population accounted for about 19% of COVID-19 deaths across the United States, between May and August, 2020.
Researchers at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences have determined that this racial and ethnic COVID-19 risk disparity is related to the race and ethnicity composition of those who perform essential work in the United States. For example, according to that research, 44% of Black Americans are likely employed in essential industry jobs. Tiana Rogers and colleagues at the University of Utah documented that “Vulnerability to coronavirus exposure was increased among Non-Hispanic Blacks, who disproportionately occupied the top nine essential occupations.” They found that, across the United States, Non-Hispanic Black Americans were disproportionately represented in several occupations that place them at high risk for contracting COVID -19, including: Transportation and material moving, health-care support, food preparation and serving, building and grounds cleaning and maintenance, and personal care and service.
The correlation between occupation category and COVID-19 death is very strong for job categories in which Black Americans are disproportionately represented. Here’s what the University of Utah found:
One of the authors of this study, Fares Qeadan, Ph.D., a biostatistician, put it this way in a recent Science Daily article:
“There are a lot of theories why Blacks are dying at higher rates than other races during this pandemic. …our descriptive study strongly suggests that Blacks are not dying from COVID-19 because they are genetically more susceptible, have more comorbidities, or aren’t taking the necessary precautions. Instead, it’s likely because they are working in jobs where they have a greater risk of coming in contact with the virus day in and day out.”
Remember all essential workers; don’t turn away
Those who would take care of us and our loved ones when we need them most, are putting their lives on the line to do so. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and as we grow weary of the disruptions to our lives, let us remember that there are about 74 million Americans who are at high risk for contracting COVID-19 simply because they are doing the jobs they need to sustain their livelihoods.
They should definitely get the COVID-19 vaccines first.
They should be continuously thanked and protected.
The next time I get bored in a Zoom meeting I am going to say to myself, “If you want to see how exciting the alternative could be, why don’t you trade places with an essential worker? Maybe then you woud really have somehting about which to complain!”