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You Are an Essential Worker

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

I have come to loathe the term “essential worker” in the way that it is being used by politicians and other public officials.

They are, of course, using it in the sense of meaning workers who perform functions that are “essential” in the running of their communities, state, and country.

And as the business closures and stay at home orders continue to be mandated in cities and states across the country, the more we hear them use the the term.

But in reality, isn’t every worker an essential worker?

Every single person who works – or who did work until various restrictions were put in place at the start of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak – does so in order to provide food and shelter for themselves and their family. It’s essential that they work, so that they can make the money they need to buy food, clothing, pay their monthly bills, pay for their prescriptions, medical services, etc.

I was appalled when I listened to NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s answers to a local reporter’s questions last week about stay at home protesters who were outside protesting against the governor continuing to keep the state on virtual lockdown, a situation that has left many in the state unable to pay their bills and stay afloat.

My mouth dropped open when I watched the full segment. He actually portrayed the marchers who are out of work right now because of the virus and drastic social distancing measures as self-centered and not thinking about their fellow New Yorkers. This completely ignores the fact that the people marching to get back to work actually are thinking about others – their families, most importantly.

He also made some comments about how even if domestic violence and mental health issues and crime were on the rise that while bad at least it wasn’t death.

“You want to go to work? Go take a job as an essential worker” Cuomo told the journalist in a condescending manner. “Do it tomorrow.”

For those who missed the back and forth between Cuomo and the CBS 6 reporter, watch below:

To be fair, New York City’s situation is vastly different than most of the rest of the country. But why not give other parts of the state a little more flexibility on when they can ease back into opening back up for business? Cuomo is using a one size fits all approach for the whole state, when the biggest hot spot is the city itself.

The same one size fits all approach is being applied here in North Carolina, too, thanks to our Democratic governor Roy Cooper. As I wrote earlier this week, Cooper announced a three phase reopen plan that really doesn’t sound like much of a reopen plan at all. It would start on May 9th assuming North Carolina continues to flatten the curve, but still leaves many retail businesses closed and restaurants and bars shut down for at least another month if not more.

He’s using the one size fits all approach for this state even though there are counties here that have not reported a single case of the virus. And there are several other counties where they have very few cases and in many of those counties there have thankfully been no deaths from those cases.

The Governor’s executive order that put the stay at home rules in place stated that if a county’s order was stricter than the state’s, then the county’s order would be the one in effect. A similar approach should be used for the counties in terms of giving them the flexibility to loosen the restrictions, too, so that their communities can start getting back to work.

The tweets below are from two North Carolina Democrats who are former elected officials. Tricia Cotham was a state representative, and Joel Ford was a state senator. Both of them have questioned Cooper’s continued insistence on a statewide approach rather than a county/regional approach to opening back up :

There are a lot more Democrats who feel that way, but in our current climate where expressing disagreement with “official” state government policy is being equated with “wanting people to die”, you don’t hear a lot of them speak openly about their feelings on the matter.

My RedState colleague Mike Ford summed up the “essential worker” argument well in a piece he wrote a few weeks ago:

These are the folks who are living paycheck to paycheck. These are the folks who, if they miss an hour, day, week or month of work, they don’t get paid. These are the folks that for each day of government-mandated idleness, lose a day’s wages…wages that they can ill afford to go without. These are the folks who if they walk out their front door to drive to work in the morning and find 4 flat tires, are financially devastated for months afterward.

To these people, their jobs are quite essential. The idea that their livelihoods can be taken away, perhaps never to return by the government, needs some sober contemplation. I understand the need for certain measures to fight this attack on America and Americans. However, I have real heartburn with an attitude demonstrated by some of my fellow American citizens and our elected representatives, that declares any American’s livelihood, “non-essential.”

Indeed.