(Content warning: Suicide, mental health)
Working people are not ok. We already knew that. It’s been true for a while. COVID-19 is making it worse.
At the end of March, close to half of Americans felt the coronavirus crisis was harming their mental health, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. In August, the CDC found that about 22% of essential workers reported seriously considering suicide in the 30 days prior to the survey and 31% of unpaid caregivers had as well.
As the health pandemic collides with the ongoing pandemic of racism, we’re seeing a familiar pattern in the CDC’s findings: Hispanic and Black respondents were the most likely to report at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom (52%, and 44% respectively).
No wonder we’re not ok, when so many of us lack security and stability. Even before the pandemic, 40% of Americans didn’t have cash on hand for a $400 emergency. Since then, workers have faced mass unemployment with millions losing healthcare during a pandemic, and many are on the brink of losing their housing.
This Labor Day, we remember that to create stability and encourage a shared recovery, we need the same things we’ve always needed: power, support, and higher wages for working people. There are many policies, details, and responses we as working people could focus on. It’s easy to get caught up in the technical details about, for example, the federal government’s almost laughable offer to let us keep our payroll tax deductions–until we have to pay them back later.
But workers don’t need sneaky loans that are more distraction than stimulus. We need the things we’ve always worked for–money, benefits, and safe working conditions. In January, before COVID-19 turned our lives upside down, a new study contributed to the growing body of evidence demonstrating that increasing the minimum wage prevents suicide. The implications are more critical now than ever.
When the virus forced us into an economic crisis, even Congress and the President admitted that what we needed was money. They supported direct cash payments and sent out $1200 checks to help workers make ends meet, even if temporarily. They also supported a $600/week expansion of unemployment insurance compensation. These were critical lifelines that helped keep millions of people afloat–but the need is still far greater.
Powerful corporations and wealthy elite continue to hoard wealth and reduce workers’ power and resources. On September 1, Vice raised the alarm that Amazon was hiring for analysts to track, among other things, “labor organizing threats against the company.” Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos’ net worth has skyrocketed during the pandemic, along with the other wealthiest Americans. According to the Guardian, “In the 12 weeks between 18 March and 11 June, the combined wealth of all US billionaires increased by more than $637 billion to a total of $3.581 trillion, more than the entire wealth of the US’s 59 million Latinx population combined and equal to three-quarters of all Black wealth, according to an analysis by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS).”
As we celebrate Labor Day this year, let’s not get distracted by discounts, payroll tax deferrals, or tinkering around the edges of economic systems that allow a few to live in unimaginable luxury while failing the vast majority of us. Instead, we must commit to taking action that results in real changes for working people.
Support union labor.
Demand investment in jobs and support services, not policing, punishment, and incarceration.
Refuse to be satisfied with the crumbs of a feast prepared on our backs.