Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Truth About Choice

Maryland makes the big time in this Newsweek article by Eddy Rodriguez from May 13th:

Maryland Restaurant Owner Can’t Get Employees to Return Because They Make More in Unemployment

While the story was initially run with a photograph of establishments on the Boardwalk in Ocean City, it’s actually based on interviews with the owner of Charles Village Pub & Patio in Towson.  Although I am not in the business of giving out awards, this article wins the prize for leaving the most important part out:

Coronavirus. Illness, dying, and death. Risking the same for one’s family members. Why does that appear nowhere in this article? 

Forget calculations of how much restaurant workers “ought” to be receiving during this crisis. This is not a story about numbers. It is a story about choice.

I cannot count the times that I have seen friends and acquaintances say since March, “I am lucky enough to be able to work from home.” 

I am lucky
I am fortunate
I feel blessed.

This is not luck, or good fortune, though one may certainly feel blessed to have it. It is a certain kind of freedom that comes from having a choice. There is a certain level of affluence that affords that choice.

Restaurant workers don’t usually fall into that category. Right now they are receiving unemployment benefits that provide a cushion of stability in a highly unstable time in the food service industry. I would argue that “having a little extra” is particularly important for those who work in low-paying jobs because they often live paycheck to paycheck and have no nest egg to fall back on in times of crisis. And remember, everything costs more when you are poor. It’s a far more expensive life than you would imagine.

I continue to be enraged by the attitude that “affluent people like us” are naturally responsible and trustworthy, while low-wage workers are treated like bad children. This article reads like a parent lamenting:

If only they hadn’t filled up on candy and junk food, they would have eaten my healthy dinner.

Hogwash. This is not about people who reject the morally superior call of honest work over the temptations of a government handout. It’s about risk, a truly calculated risk. What if I return to work and get sick? What if I die and my family loses my income? What if I infect my family? 

You know who isn’t interviewed in this piece? The workers.

This cartoon shows what is happening in states that haven’t provided the sort of safety net that Maryland has:

Cartoon by Konopacki

Is that what we want in Maryland? Some folks are “lucky” to have the affluence to chose, while others are not deemed valuable enough to have a choice? And while we are at it, perhaps low wage workers should be making a living wage that allows them the luxury of saving and other “lucky” choices. 

This is a story about risk and who we allow to have a choice. Or, rather, it should be. Somehow those truths didn’t make it into the article.

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