By Kayla Johnson
The COVID-19 crisis has shifted cultural norms. More precautionary measures are being implemented while many grow restless awaiting the world to reopen. Several companies have abided by quarantine protocols by exchanging their cubicle spaces for virtual spaces. Zoom call meetings have infiltrated the lives of many employees. But remote work isn’t an option for millions in fields like retail, dining and other industries. The luxury of transitioning your work life to an at-home office with accessible wifi isn’t a universal reality.
Many low wage workers have faced heightened work hours with no hazard pay, shortened hours due to limited business or unexpected layoffs. In just nine weeks roughly 38 million have filed for unemployment benefits. With unemployment rates skyrocketing near levels of the Great Depression, the virus’s impact on the economy is clearly overwhelming.
Responses to the influx of unemployment claims have varied state by state. According to the U.S. Labor Department, the average person receives $378 a week in unemployment benefits. More generous states offer benefits up to $555. Due to the high volume of claims several states have experienced delays in processing state and CARES Act payments, leaving people struggling to make ends meet. The White House’s stimulus check programme provided temporary relief for eligible households but a larger issue arises as the unemployment rate continues to increase.
In addition to financial crises, essential workers and healthcare professionals risk exposure to COVID-19 daily to conduct business as usual. Though many are able to work within the safe walls of their home, just as many risk their health to maintain some sense of normality for the rest of us.
People working in “must-show” fields like dining may feel compelled to work to prove their reliability. A tough game of survival of the fittest; the more you prove to be an outstanding employee, the higher your chances of getting more hours meaning more money to take home. People in these sorts of industries often lack access to benefits like paid sick leave that could keep them from coming to work and potentially spreading the virus to loved ones, colleagues and customers.
The CDC assured us that the best way to prevent spreading the virus was to quarantine and practice social distancing. But as the country begins to reopen despite the threat of a second wave, this will become a much more difficult task. The compounding effects of the COVID-19 crisis leaves millions questioning when will things get back to normal? And what will our new “normal” be like?
Kayla Johnson is a published writer, photographer and multi-faceted millennial whose work centers around culture, media and entertainment. Dive into more of her published work here.