The worst pandemic in a century is sparking policy changes and potentially a new dialogue about the inequity lower-wage workers and their families face in America.
The global pandemic has thrown the country’s inequity into stark relief, exposing the divide between those who enjoy its benefits and protections and the workers and families who don’t, even if they are deemed essential to the economy.
The pandemic is already changing local and national dialogues about issues families and activists have been working on for years: paid leave, an end to mass incarceration and access to decent housing and health care. Cities, states and the federal government have begun enacting temporary policies that grassroots organizations have long demanded.
Dialogues shifted in a matter of weeks. The outbreak and economic fallout showed the nation that no one should come to work sick, and that workers are entitled to paid and long-term leave. Stories emerged that COVID-19 could spread like wildfire through jails and detention centers. In response, some cities and counties reduced the number of people detained for minor offenses – moves that echoed the ongoing fight to ensure people are not imprisoned or detained for low-level offenses.
This may only be the beginning. The pandemic has made it clear who enjoys access to the nation’s comprehensive safety net, which includes everything from good health care and a living wage to paid leave and basic safety protections at work. It’s a net that lower-wage workers – including home care aides, farmworkers, cashiers and warehouse workers still on the job during this pandemic – often live without. And it’s a net that excludes disproportionately more workers who are Black, Latinx and women, the Brookings Institution reports.
In the coming weeks, Equal Voice will tell stories of progress amid this pandemic, exploring changes in everything from paid leave to criminal justice, as well as debates about whether and how to make these changes permanent. Policies being forged in the flames of this crisis hold the promise of a new conversation about an equitable distribution of benefits – and ultimately power.
Paul Nyhan is the storytelling and partnership manager and Tom Vásquez is the program officer for the Southwest at Marguerite Casey Foundation. Equal Voice is Marguerite Casey Foundation’s publication featuring stories of America’s families creating social change. With Equal Voice, we challenge how people think and talk about poverty in America. All original Equal Voice content can be reproduced for free, as long as proper credit and a link to our homepage are included.