Low-wage earners suffer the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic

Libraries%2C+amongst+other+public+areas%2C+are+closed+due+to+COVID-19%2C+leaving+its+workers+with+compromised+or+nonexistent+hours+for+an+indefinite+period.

Hanna Kryhina

Libraries, amongst other public areas, are closed due to COVID-19, leaving its workers with compromised or nonexistent hours for an indefinite period.

In the past few weeks, Americans from 41 states have been asked to do the unthinkable — stay inside their homes. These extreme measures are due to the fast-growing COVID-19 contagion.

According to the WorldoMeter, there are now over 350,000 confirmed cases nationally and over 1.3 million cases globally.

The shelter-in-place, lockdown, and quarantine guidelines being enforced across the planet have shut down all non-essential gatherings, limited what is deemed as essential, and implemented strict protocols regarding social distancing, including maintaining a 6-feet distance from strangers at all times.

While the measures taken to combat the virus have affected everyone in numerous ways, the group most adversely impacted is likely to be daily and low wage-earners. The nature of these jobs, such as working at a restaurant, gas station, or delivering food and packages, often involves close face-to-face interactions and therefore poses a higher risk for catching the virus.

These jobs cannot be done from home in the same way as an orthodox office job. With offices and other facilities shut down and people not venturing out of the house, most of these workers find themselves in risky environments or even out of work for the unforeseeable future.

Living with limited earnings and little or no savings is difficult in the first place, but with no new income, even survival becomes an enormous challenge. According to TIME magazine, approximately 86% of the country works in service industry jobs. Many of these people who make up this 86% live paycheck to paycheck.

For Adrian Fernandez, a senior at Carlmont, this is the reality for his family.

“Both my step-father and my mother work minimum wage jobs. We’ve always lived check to check and have little to no money saved, but with the measures taken to combat COVID-19, we don’t know where any of our basic necessities will come from,” Fernandez said.

Not only are obtaining basic necessities proving to be difficult for people in this position, paying rent and mortgage are too. According to Indeed, the average rent for a California MD apartment can range from $1,001-$2,000, while the standard monthly wage for a food service worker in the same area is $2,283 a month, barely enough to keep a roof on their heads and support their families.

“We’ve been able to get food from my step-father’s work and have some extensions on our bills, but our rent is still due every month. There’s nothing we can do about it; we’re just trying to ration our resources and save money for the rent payment,” Fernandez said.

It’s clear that the current situation is precipitating a crisis in the already precarious lives of such workers. While the shelter-in-place guidelines are certainly making their lives more complicated, it is also the only viable option thought to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases. The more people that break the protocol, the longer it will be enforced, and the more such people will struggle. For the workers, it is a lose-lose situation.