Day Twenty-Nine: Essential

Nice work, if you can get it. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I read an article today from FastCompany about all the permanent changes we can expect to see coming out of this. The bulk of it was about how more people would work from home, with a few interviewees selling their different products or industries. Granted, the publication is FastCompany. It’s not exactly your go-to magazine for how the other (not rich) half lives. But the executives featured seemed to have no inkling of the reality for the millions of Americans who don’t work in the corporate world.

In the mean time, the Atlantic published this scathing letter from a Trader Joe’s employee.

Cashiers and shelf-stockers and delivery-truck drivers aren’t heroes. They’re victims. To call them heroes is to justify their exploitation. By praising the blue-collar worker’s public service, the progressive consumer is assuaged of her cognitive dissonance. When the world isn’t falling apart, we know the view of us is usually as faceless, throwaway citizens. The wealthy CEO telling his thousands of employees that they are vital, brave, and noble is a manipulative strategy to keep them churning out profits.

I want to know what kinds of changes the people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder are going to see in the aftermath. More people working from home is great, but it isn’t an option in a lot of sectors.

If this experience has suddenly made us aware of the vital nature of jobs in the grocery supply chain all the way through to the cashier, can we still justify their low pay and lousy benefits? Can we continue to treat our delivery drivers, gig workers, and public transportation workers as “faceless, throwaway citizens”?

Image courtesy of

How is it that a liberal capitalist economy pays people in essential work so poorly, anyway? Isn’t that backward? Shouldn’t we, as a society, value first what is necessary? How did we wind up with an economy that is like an inverted version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual mean wage for a childcare worker in May of 2019 was $25,510. Farmworkers and Laborers, Crop, Nursery, and Greenhouse were better off at $27,780. Meat, Poultry, and Fish Cutters and Trimmers made $28,810, while Food Processing Workers, All Other got $28,820. Slaughterers and Meat Packers, Ambulance Drivers and Attendants, Except Emergency Medical Technicians, Bakers, Stockers and Order Fillers, and Farmworkers, Farm, Ranch, and Aquacultural Animals all made less than $30,000 per year on the mean.

On the other end of the spectrum, Advertising, Marketing, Promotions, Public Relations, and Sales Managers earned a mean of $143,330, and Personal Service Managers, All Other; Entertainment and Recreation Managers, Except Gambling; and Managers, All Other got $118,710 on the mean.

It’s an interesting chart to look at. I have to admit, I cherrypicked to make my point. Recreation workers are paid poorly, which, it can be argued, makes sense, given that recreation beyond exercise is not a necessity (or at least isn’t generally thought of as such). Doctors are highly paid and are essential.

But the point stands. This crisis has opened our eyes about what jobs are really essential. It’s great that more people in the corporate environment will get to work from home in the world to come. But please don’t tell me we aren’t also going to make some changes for our genuinely, actually, factually essential workforce.

Signing off. Take Care and Take Care of one another.

1 thought on “Day Twenty-Nine: Essential

  1. Valerie Hackbarth

    Yes. I am glad you are addressing the inequality in our society and yet we still heard how the grocery workers were treated so poorly.. I did enjoy the letter from the King Soopers manager addressing some off the concerns.. may be this will make the corporate world off retail think a little harder about the self checkout and if it’s really feasible in a sense of having that human element..


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