What is an “essential worker”?

One of the things I struggled with when I worked at various businesses was the thought that I didn’t matter. The job I did wasn’t important, and I wasn’t “essential” to the running of society. Today we have a whole government that has decided who is and who isn’t essential, and everyone else has been deemed unessential. To have the work you do to earn a living dictated in such a fashion seems a bit harsh, but we did it for a good reason, right?

“Essential worker” is an interesting thought experiment. What do you need? Let’s try a laptop to work from home. How many people are required to make that laptop, ship the various ingredients, refine them, mold them, and assemble them? How about tech support when it breaks, or a repair person? How about electricians to keep the power plants running, ISP workers to keep your internet working, and all the people necessary to make the parts (fiber optics, copper wires, mechanics for the trucks, etc. Etc) that the techs are going to need.

Everything can be bought through Amazon, but they don’t build it. They don’t get the raw materials or refine it. They don’t keep the system running that you need to use it.

Heck, even thinking about Avocado toast and all the people needed to grow, pick, process, bake, ship, and sell the items in that simple meal…. It’s a chain of people and they all have their place.

It has taken me a while to realize that it wasn’t the jobs I had that made me feel unimportant. A lot of it was the fact that management made it known that I could be replaced with anyone else, and it wasn’t my job that wasn’t important, it was me. They boiled the job down to the necessities, and it didn’t matter who did it, they just needed a warm body.

And if it wasn’t the employer reminding me how little they needed me it was sometimes the customer that looked down on me for having that job. The shouts, snide looks, or condescending attitude that said they were better than me because they managed to get a “real” job. And yet they were there for my customer service. What would they do if that job disappeared?

One of the jobs I had was making noodles at a noodle factory. It seems like an unimportant job, but in the first days of the corona virus noodles were one of the first things to disappear from the shelves. It seemed important to all the millions of people who eat noodles every day.

Another job was a storage facility. It seems like a perfectly useless job, so many people just have them for “stuff” right? But I met so many people who had just lost a parent and were storing their stuff while they dealt with the funeral arrangements. Or people moving to new opportunities. Or people who just lost their home and had to have storage because they had no other option. I had so many people thank me for a warm smile, or a kind word. I had people cry telling me about their mom who just passed away, and how they just didn’t know what they were going to do now that she was gone. For those brief moments… I mattered.

What is “essential”? Humanity has been building upon the jobs and inventions of past generations for centuries. Each part fits together to hold up the other.

I think if you feel a job is “unessential” then you shouldn’t go there. If you think they really don’t matter than stop giving them your money. Eventually the unessential jobs will fade away. But the jobs that do exist are there for a reason. They provided a service someone needed, either to feed them, cloth them, shelter them, or just keep them entertained. And each job is an intricate part of a greater whole.

I think once quarantine lifts we’re going to realize just how essential some things are, things we perhaps forgot or gave up for a time. I only hope that this reminds us to be kinder to those who serve us because we need them as much as they need us.

Texas Today… things are weird.

A few weeks ago I stocked up on some basics. A bigger bag of rice, a large bag of dry beans, a few boxes of pasta. Nothing dramatic, but enough that I felt we we would be okay if a hurricane blew through, or an earthquake, or maybe even a few weeks of quarantine. The only thing missing from the shelves that day were ramen noodles, and a toilet paper was getting low (so I grabbed one of those just in case too.)

Today I went in for a couple of potatoes and soda. Normal weekly stuff. I was a little shocked by just how many shelves were bare.

Now, some of this is a good thing. Everyone should have at least a weeks worth of food in their pantry (non-perishables) just in case. I’ve made it a point to do so ever since living in North Dakota twenty years ago. We had a blizzard that knocked out the power for the entire state and no water. My baby was on formula at the time and we had no water to make her formula. No food that didn’t need to be cooked, and no way to heat the apartment since everything was electric. I learned very quickly that it’s just good practice to have a few gallons of water, and some non-perishables on hand in case something happened.

But this is something that’s supposed to be done over time, not everyone rushing on the stores at once, so I’m not surprised that the stores are being stripped. It’s as if everyone was told there’s going to be a really bad hurricane next week so be prepared, and they did. The trouble is they all did it at once, and a few opportunistic people exacerbated the issue buy buying ALL of a few key things…so it’s looking a little barren at the moment.

This will pass. In a week or two supply chains will catch up, and people will already have their two week pantry, so we can all get back to a….normal…existence. As normal as you can get with social distancing, at least.

I’ve been venturing out a little here and there to pick up something at the drive through, or just grab something at the store, but seeing the shelves bare like that was a bit surreal. I’m one of those people with compromised immune systems. I have asthma, and a few bad allergies, and have had complication in the last few years that landed me in the hospital on a neutralizer because I couldn’t breath. I’m susceptible to pneumonia and bronchitis already, so this thing… ya, I’m a little worried if I get it. Gregg, my SO, is worried about me, too. He has steadfastly refused to leave the house for the last week because he absolutely does not want to risk me getting sick.

So we stay home. It isn’t much different from normal, we all work from home, but it feels different somehow. I admit part of me had a morbid curiosity to see if the news about stores was right, but also I sometimes just like to go have a meal at a restaurant, or window shop, and I really can’t right now.

I’m not the only one. There are millions of people across the world right now just waiting to see what happens. I saw a picture of a woman telling her granddad about her engagement through a window because she didn’t want to make him sick. I’m sure most of us saw the balcony concerts going on in Italy. People all over the world, in every country, are hunkering down until doctors can find a solution, or the virus burns itself out.

This could be a moment for us all to come together over a common foe, like in the movie where aliens attack and we all band together to fight for humanity. Sometimes I wish life was as neat and orderly as a movie with a definitive beginning, middle and happy ending.

On the plus side, they were stocking the shelves with toilet paper as I was leaving the store today. I’m certain the shelves will be restocked in a week or two as well with most items. This isn’t the end of the world, just a really big bump in the road. We’ll make it through, it’s just going to be rough for a little while.

Till then, hang in there.