For many of us, the world is falling apart. A large section of the populations is struggling to survive without income, while in “essential” sectors, such as healthcare, retail, and transportation, employers are working their employees into the ground to keep up with the booming demand.
Depending on the source, anywhere from 50% to 78% of US workers live paycheck to paycheck– and the general consensus is with the higher of those numbers. The vast majority of Americans also have no emergency savings. When your workplace folds up or is ordered to close, and you find yourself quarantined at home with no income, what are you to do?
For those not in quarantine and able to job search, there are now hundreds of desperate job seekers for every opening. Initial reporting suggests that we may to see higher rates of unemployment than the Great Depression.
Meanwhile, in essential sectors employees are working back to back shifts and getting more hours than ever before. On the surface, the solution is fairly obvious– hire the newly unemployed to fill the need in essential industries. Unfortunately it’s not that simple.
Some of these positions, such as those in healthcare, require years of special education. Others are extremely fast paced, and not suitable for many workers. And then there’s the fact that in some essential industries, businesses just aren’t hiring. Why pay twice as many people when you could just work the ones you have into the ground? Workers now have more motivation than ever to avoid being unemployed, so it’s not like they’re going to quit.
In the case of my own workplace, several competitors have folded up as a result of the epidemic. They’re not coming back. Due to that and the large number of people sheltering at home in small villages accessible only by aircraft, our business has increased more than 200%.
We’ve been begging upper management to authorize us to hire more employees to deal with the increase. So far we’ve been told that “it would be a shame to have to lay anyone off, so we’re not creating any new positions at this time.” That leaves us handling twice as much freight with a crew that was already understaffed when this started. There’s so much work that I could easily work more than 16 hours a day– and I sometimes do.
This Is Not Sustainable
It goes without saying that things cannot continue like this. We– both on the personal level, and on the national level– cannot go on as we are. We’re teetering on the brink of collapse.
Many people are unable to buy food, pay their bills, or afford medication. Businesses have seen their revenue streams dry up as their customers limit all non-critical spending. Essential employees are being asked to work 60, 70, or 80 hours a week to support the booming demand for their employers’ services.
This is not due to the virus alone, or to states’ and governments’ response to it. This is a result of the system we live under, and it has been slowly creeping up on us for decades. The rich grow richer, the poor grow poorer, and more and more of the population slips below the poverty line. In effect, most of us are drowning so that a few– the Jeff Bezoses and Waltons of the world– can claim the majority of the dry land.
This Affects You Too. Yes, You
You may still be quite comfortable with everything going on in the world. You may not have lost your job, or been put on indefinite leave, and you may not work in a sector that has seen demand double or triple as a result of the pandemic. And in that case, I’m happy for you. But this has repercussions for you too.
If you’re an author, or indeed any type of content creator, you may have noticed major changes in your revenue stream. Ebook sales are up in some markets, if you can snag readers’ interest. Paperback sales are way down as suppliers and brick-and-mortar booksellers fold up. And overall a massive drop in income for many of your readers/backers/Patreon supporters means a drop income for you.
Even if you’re not a creator, it’s no secret that the middle class is shrinking and will continue to do so if current trends continue. Printing more money and doling out a round or two of stimulus checks will do little to mitigate the crisis. (In fact, it’s arguable that printing more money is only going to exacerbate the problem.)
To revisit the land metaphor, we do not need to dredge low-quality land out of the bog; we need to do something about the 1% of land owners who are hoarding 99% of the dry land while everyone else struggles to tread water. Anything less is going to put us right back where we are now.