Don’t expect some privileged, ignorant opinion on the ‘good’ that may come out of this pandemic. You won’t be receiving it. The Coronavirus pandemic is devastating communities globally, and particularly those already most vulnerable. Here’s what I will say: Perhaps, this pandemic has helped highlight the importance of social safety nets, now that almost everyone is feeling the impact of American individualist provisions. As with most things – aside from citizens-led revolutions – the opportunity for a change is arriving as a result of the upper quintiles’ new revelations with their less comfortable reality.
Though some business owners and politicians have spent decades worrying about the effects of a federally mandated paid sick leave, the pandemic has rightfully begun to sway opinions on whether to implement some all-encompassing regulations. The lack of paid sick leave poses the greatest threat to communities already most at risk, leaves our country in the shadows of other countries’ progress, and fails to consider studies’ conclusions on the beneficial effects of implementing such policies.
Our history affects our reality:
To understand the shortcomings of our current day social safety nets, it is necessary to have an understanding of the values that founded America. The society that developed from the colonists’ ideologies focused on what is known today as ‘bootstrapping.’ This archaic belief system is ruled by the concept that hard work is all it takes to financially advance through the rungs. Fair enough – until inequity is factored in.
Jacksonian values are central to our lack of equal access to resources – and most specifically, paid sick leave. The idea of little government involvement, and working for your own financial security, is the pinnacle of the principle. This inherently leads to less motivation to pass bills that expect all private enterprises to accommodate those that are (supposedly) incapable of handling their expenses and financial well-being on their own.
If this doesn’t sound familiar yet, consider the term “American exceptionalism.” This phrase, along with the aforementioned, all overlap; they all speak to the overarching idea that any person can make it as far as they desire simply by wanting it badly enough. It disregards all confounding factors that realistically are applied to restrict social mobility for some groups. These are visible in every aspect of our society: education inequality, lack of access to work opportunities, and reluctance to accommodate some workers. Remote work and paid sick leave has proved much more feasible – economically and otherwise – than companies believed, or touted it as being, in the past.
This translates into the explanation behind why lack of sick leave, along with the promotion of a bootstrapping mentality, are disadvantageous and ultimately exploitative measures. Those without a cushy job are forced to continue working while sick or risk unemployment. They do this and ultimately get those around them sick as well. As the sickness, and in this case the virus, spreads – many will not have the luxury of affording time off to visit a healthcare provider, or to pay for the costs that come with a visit either. The situation continues to spiral, and those in managerial positions will be allowed to take time off – and likely be paid as well – as the situation continues to spiral.
What we do have:
All of what has been aforementioned leads to a greater cognizance of the programs in place today. In the context of family and sick leave, it’s why we only have one big Family and Medical Leave Act (also known as the FMLA). This federal mandate is ambiguous, leaving numerous companies and organizations not liable. Its main function is to pronounce the conditions under which it is legal for an employee to take unpaid leave.
The law dictates that workers may take up to 12 weeks of leave in one designated year if they have been a part of a company for at least one year. Their absence may also not be cause for their termination while they are away. However, the law does not apply to private corporations who do not employ at least 50 workers for at least 5 months of the working calendar year.
Moreover, it is crucial to recognize that we are the only ‘well-developed’ country without any assured paid leave. What is considered within the U.S. to be an outlandish luxury that isn’t affordable for most institutions to opt into is a typical assurance given abroad. Which is to say, our current status is utterly embarrassing; approximately a quarter of American workers did not have any paid sick leave guarantees before the pandemic. These workers tend to be those who are most commonly providing front-line services, which we have finally come to recognize as essential. With the ongoing public health crisis ensuing, it is easier to see how their well-being affects the rest of us.
How Corona has caused a reevaluation:
One might suspect that if there was ever a time or reason to revise a stance on such a health policy, it would be during a pandemic. The unfiltered truth is that there has been more conversation and even some actions. However, they have proved lackluster. The new ordinance guarantees about half of the previously unprotected workers some paid time off. Yet, our healthcare workers are still not ensured those protections. Similarly to the original FMLA, this bill also guarantees compensation to employees of companies with at least 50 workers; distinctly, it provides a major loophole. Companies with over 500 workers are not required to provide time off.
If it is any reassurance, nearly 90 percent of workers at huge enterprises are provided with some time off. The whole truth is that they are typically only provided with about half the time it typically takes to recover from Corona. This is bound to be leaving workers with an unfortunate set of options – therefore, putting more of the general public at risk as a result. Which is not to say, that their lives should not be protected for their own sake, but that the multimillion dollar enterprises and their respective owners are continuing to put the majority of the population at significant risk to secure their exorbitant wealth.
For those still on edge, consider that most workers tend to only take an extra day or two of sick leave when it is paid. This is a small economic trade off that companies can afford to make for the securement of public health. Along those same lines, productivity tends to shoot down almost $1700 per employee per year when there are no policies enacted. Most employers within areas that require paid sick leave – 86% to be exact – have even gone on record after the implementation of these laws as supportive of its effects.
The remedy to our split:
Despite all of the reasons that have been elaborated upon, there will be some people who still do not support government interference in big business. This hesitancy would play into the beliefs that Jacksonian values cover. Hands off big business, or laissez-faire economics, is idealistically very rational. It relies on businesses and government to both be rational actors who still have the peoples’ interests in mind – which most of us have come to realize is far from the truth. What keeps some individuals far from the 1 percent but still supporting corporate interests is the hope that they will get to that position someday.
This dream – which is to some extent unfounded – leads them to protect the rights they hope they would be able to take advantage of at some point. It is necessary to step away from our aspirations and unpack the ethics involved in such circumstances. It does not seem farfetched to say that being exploited, or more casually put: having our well-being disregarded for someone else’s benefit, would drive our blood to boil. Once we consider how these dynamics play into those dreams – and for the multi-millionaires, their realities – we can start to rebuild the society around more equal terms and expectations. Consider how a mandated federal paid sick leave policy would assist in eradicating the virus. Reflect on how productivity would be positively affected, if that’s the main concern. Recognize that most of us ascribe to the idea of government being a social contract which secures our safety when private members and corporations will not; this idea is all that is being promoted when calling for a federally-mandated policy. And finally, like in all other situations, examine your position within our society and the privileges you may or may not hold.