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Essential Workers ‘Risk Their Lives On A Daily Basis To Help The Country Beat The Pandemic, But They Aren't Making Enough Money.’ What’s The ‘Easiest Way To Fix That?’ ‘Pay Them More.’

Published Wednesday, May 13, 2020
by Rachel Korberg & Sarita Gupta/Via Business Insider
Essential Workers ‘Risk Their Lives On A Daily Basis To Help The Country Beat The Pandemic, But They Aren't Making Enough Money.’  What’s The ‘Easiest Way To Fix That?’  ‘Pay Them More.’

Business Insider Editor’s Note: The authors of this Labor Perspective are: Rachel Korberg is a Program Officer with the Ford Foundation's Future of Work initiative; and Sarita Gupta is Director of the Ford Foundation's Future of Work Program.


Kim Brown used to love her job at a Publix Grocery Store in Georgia.

She enjoyed meeting new people and always went above and beyond to help customers who needed extra support.

"If I can help you, I will," she said. "That's just the way I was raised."  

But living under the lingering threat of the Coronavirus, Kim worries that her health, and even her life, are in jeopardy every time she walks into the store.

At first, Kim and her fellow Essential Employees were not allowed to wear masks.

Now there are more physical protections in place, but she is scared her Co-Workers may come to work sick and spread the disease because they need the paycheck.

Georgia does not require Employers to provide Paid Sick Leave and while Publix is offering it to all Employees who test positive, tests aren't easy to come by and you might be contagious before you can get tested.  

Last month, the Ford Foundation and Schmidt Futures, along with a diverse group of funding partners, launched the Families and Workers Fund to support Essential Workers like Kim - as well as the now more than 33.5 million people who have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment benefits in the past seven weeks.

The fund aims to deliver both immediate relief to those who need it most and ensure long-lasting impact by supporting policy and advocacy efforts that will lead to a fair and just economic recovery. 

When laid-off Workers don't have enough money to afford basics like food, rent, and medicine, the fastest way to fix that problem is to give them more money.

It's a solution that's been applied - and proven - in countries and communities around the globe.

That's why we're supporting the Cash Relief Funds at organizations like National Domestic Workers Alliance and National Day Laborers Organizing Network - which are getting money directly to the most vulnerable Workers in our economy, including Care Providers and Immigrant Workers who lack stable employment.

The government's emergency response, while historic and a critical first step, is still insufficient to meet the moment and the needs of Workers.

Supporting Cash Relief Funds is crucial to fill the immense void

The bipartisan Federal Relief Package, named the CARES Act, included a one-time check of up to $1,200 per person and expanded Unemployment Insurance.

While this is a huge stride, it won't be enough to prevent millions from falling into or deeper into poverty, especially when the package excludes some of the most marginalized, such as many Immigrants.

Community Non-Profits and Worker Organizations shouldn't have to fill in the gaps, but they are.

And when they provide a check, it's more than just money in the bank - it's a way for people to connect with others who share their challenges and want to mobilize for a better future.

Coronavirus is exposing not just the devastating inequalities at the root of the U.S. Economic System, but also the false narratives that have allowed them to fester.

Pervasive beliefs that low-wage work is not essential and unemployment and poverty are the results of personal failings are being hotly contested.

Across the political spectrum, leaders are celebrating Low-Wage Workers and thanking them for risking their lives to keep our families fed, and there is a growing conversation about how Paid Sick Leave and enhanced Workplace Health and Safety Practices actually make companies more resilient, rather than less competitive

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