There’s something very wrong when people who have to keep showing up at their jobs despite the dangers of a deadly pandemic are earning less money than those who lost jobs and stayed home.
In its rush to shore up the economy and help the many people thrown out of work when things shut down, Congress forgot to include those who are considered essential and couldn’t choose to stay home.
There’s obviously something wrong when people can make more money by not working. (Maybe they should have been making more when they were working.)
It’s even worse when those who are working and earning less than the unemployed are putting their lives in danger every day.
When government officials finally realized how serious the COVID-19 threat is and shut down the economy, legislators knew that lots of people would struggle without their usual paychecks.
Congress quickly passed temporary emergency relief measures including an extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits. That extra money has made it possible for many individuals and families to stay financially afloat in these challenging times.
But what about those people who had to keep going to work because their jobs are considered essential? Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals fell into the essential category. So did police, firefighters and other emergency workers.
And then there are the people in jobs that might not usually be considered essential, or even given much thought at all.
But where would we have been without the truck drivers who keep delivering the things we need, the folks who keep the grocery and drugstore shelves stocked, the cashiers, the people who clean the businesses and service establishments that stayed open, the aides who help out at nursing homes and hospitals?
The list of underappreciated workers we take for granted most of the time goes on. Unfortunately, many of these workers also are underpaid.
The pandemic and widespread shutdowns made these workers’ lives more difficult and expensive. Children were suddenly at home, needing childcare and meals. The price of groceries went up as many items became scarce.
Some who had depended upon public transportation had to find other ways to get around.
But these essential workers were expected to keep showing up for work, putting their health and lives at risk.
In many cases, if they had been laid off and qualified for unemployment benefits, they would have been making more money.
Some companies did pay bonuses or give modest temporary raises to workers who were at risk. Many did not.
Those who are working essential jobs should not begrudge those who are unemployed. Many of those who have lost jobs have yet to start drawing unemployment benefits, and in any case, the extra benefits are set to run out at the end of July.
The real point is that many people are struggling, through no fault of their own, as we deal with this pandemic. Congress was right to help those who were thrown out of work, and now it should make up for having overlooked the plight of essential workers, many of whom are in low-paying jobs.
There are proposals for hazard or “hero” pay to extend help to essential workers too. Something should be approved without more delay.
These workers proved how essential they really are. They need and deserve some extra money to help them keep going.
Heartfelt thanks would be good, too.
Today’s editorial is from the Winston-Salem Journal. The views expressed are not necessarily those of this newspaper.