America: The Great UnMasking
Thursday, May 13, 2021. Day of the Great American Un-Masking. An unexpected announcement from the CDC declared vaccinated people can go mask free. A surprising twist bound to stir some confusion among the ranks. The most obvious rabbit hole being, how do we know who Is vaccinated? I mean really and truly. I ‘m not the only one who took one look at the vaccination card and declared; “damn, I can print that at home”! The FBI will have to hire some new peeps to unmask that issue.
The cloud of euphoria floating across the US carries a tinge of unease as we head into the muddy water of personal privacy, HIPA and yet another round of “us vs them” mentality.
An unmasked, smiling President Biden declared it a “great milestone, a great day”. A pandemic exhausted population wants to agree. We have 4th July celebrations to plan. Vacations owed. Parties and concerts to attend. Normal life beckons with all its sweet, remembered temptations. The privileges of vaccination.
On the flip side, employers are howling for employees to fill their empty jobs, vaccinated, masked or, not. Over 17 states are now cutting the pandemic Federal unemployment boost. The domino effect of that will hit the recovering economy like a ton of bricks on a waterbed. There will be spillage. Unemployment was fuelling the economic recovery. With less money to spend at the local restaurant and grocery store, small business will take another hit. Without decent paying jobs in an inflationary economy, bills will start piling up. 2008 flashbacks. Unemployment payments are not the real bone of contention. Emotionally rooted political beliefs founded in Reganomics are. Hard liners claim Unemployment pays more than business can “afford”. What is affordable to business is a grey area tightly linked to quarterly profit margins. Hourly pay is not the foundational issue. Dignity is. 2020 brought social justice into the employment debate. While to date, little has changed on the job front, the pandemic clarified a deep need for change. Unemployment pushback may be more an indication on what is wrong with work environments that Welfare Queen “laziness” myths. High on the agenda are hierarchal, unequal power dynamics, toxic workspaces and fear based “at will “work policies.
Employees have no desire to return to low-paying jobs dictated by “at will “ work policies in an on-going pandemic. They want job security, safety and respect as a basic human right. After a year of death, American workers are pushing back. For life.
Dare we relax into a vaccinated, mask-less bliss? 2020 created one of the biggest internal power shifts the US has seen since the 1930’s. The Old Guard is fighting back with unemployment cuts, restrictive laws and fury. They understand how important this fight is for the survival of their worlds.
Will unmasking return us to a broken system and herd us into an “any-job-is-better-than-no-job” panic? Can any of us “afford” to return to “normal” pre-pandemic work environments? In this “new” world, we dared to hope for more balanced employer/employee relationships. A dawning awareness of the symbiotic mutual needs that create sustainable profits and a better world for everyone. A new understanding and respect for human dignity in the workplace. 2020 showed us there are other ways to work, other ways to live.
In a pandemic world, workers found their voice. They embraced a new awareness of their own intrinsic value as humans. They are tired of working 3 jobs that still don’t cover rising rents. They want a living wage and job security. Contrary to the “lazy” argument, people want to work. Americans are some of the hardest workers in the world. This time, however, they want to work in an environment of personal dignity where work brings a level of personal fulfilment. Employee profit framed in equitable work conditions and the ability to feed their families while still paying the rent. Basic human “needs” are not the same as “wants”.
President Biden wants to “Make America Great” again. What is America without its workers?
The current Federal minimum wage is so outdated, it’s a moot argument. Nobody can live off $7.25 an hour. Legally mandated at the Federal level, minimum wage refers to the hourly base-level pay employees should receive for full or part-time work. In 1933–38 President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the Fair Labour Standards and National Recovery Acts. This was his agenda for economic recovery from the Great Depression and built a platform for workers to live above the poverty level. A concept of expansive prosperity that acknowledged the value of the American worker. Definitive action vs political propaganda.
President Roosevelt expressed his feelings in a private meeting the night before signing the Act. He warned: “Do not let any calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000 a day, …tell you…that a wage of $11 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on all American industry.”
In light of the current debate, Americans may be surprised at the historical “repeat” of both arguments and events. In 1938, this perspective was considered not only dangerous and revolutionary but many feared it would destroy capitalist business and the country. It didn’t. In his inauguration speech, President Roosevelt noted, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”. Many years later, a journalist would note, “My God! .25 extra cents an hour! Why all the fuss?” Industry had not only recovered, but was booming.
In reality, the current Federal $7.25 per hour minimum wage covers neither the cost of living nor the price of basic necessities. With an inflation rate of 0.47% a loaf of bread costs $5 dollars vs $2 dollars in 2009. In calculating actual inflation, the minimum wage has in effect decreased by over $2.00 per hour since 1968. A full-time federal minimum wage worker today actually earns 18% less than that same worker earned in 2009.
Raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 will still leave workers scrabbling to catch up to both inflation and actual costs of living.
Our Federal government told us we can unmask. We shed them with sweating relief in the face of summer. We have hope that the proverbial end is in sight. Even so, this un-masking is a sticky situation. It leads into questions of personal privacy, business rights and continued social responsibility. How does this work in an on-going global pandemic? Where are the lines drawn for individual rights, employees and the business of work?
The Great Unmasking may be a big bump for political popularity scales. But. Popularity is a fickle friend. A digital commodity that bears little value in the un-virtual world. That social media circus of SEO rankings that can flip overnight. Followers are easily distracted by the trolls. Political popularity polls don’t feed families. A real living wage would.
Are our Front-line employees no longer Heroes? Those nightly claps and Hero Pay have vanished. Now, they are just “workers”. That pandemic shine tarnished by overall exhaustion. For now, we can now picnic, shop and travel. Life is back to “normal”. Happy twittering’s of jubilation. We have earned this freedom. We bask in it like spring sunshine after a hard, cold winter.
Tomorrow, we will address student debt relief, rising housing costs, employee protections and social justice. Tomorrow, or next week. Maybe after that vacation… Today, light up the barbecue, torch the mask, summer fun is back. Winter is coming, but we can deal with that, later..
Traveling still requires a mask. A minor detail. Just another small blip like the minorities of vaccinated people who develop mild or asymptomatic “break-through infections”. On a global scale, how many does a “small minority” stack up to in actual bodies? Silly question, I know.
What is “asymptomatic”? It simply means you have no symptoms. It does Not mean you don’t have Covid-19. You’re just the dog who carries the fleas’ home to share.
Data shows that on average, 80% of Covid infections have been asymptomatic. Well, that sounds like good news. Those “I think I had in back in…” conversations get validation marks. We love data. It can be so beautifully distracting, because we want it to be.
The Great Un-Masking has many of us are confused. Not only by the CDC (read Federal) directive but how this will work in our politically fractured society. Blue vs Red. Pandemic 2020 clearly demonstrated States deifying Federal mandates with little or no consequences. Trickling down, counties thumbed their noses at State directives and everyone else self-managed themselves based on individual interpretations of constitutional personal rights. While we were watching Netflix, did our entire legal system collapse? Has the concept of individualism undermined the legal cohesion of these “United” States?
Without mandated guidelines, Pandemic 2021 and the Great Unmasking has a new twist. The honour system. You say, “I’m vaccinated”, and we must believe you. Very cool. Per HIPA, nobody can actually demand to see your vaccination card. They will, anyway. From fake vaccination cards to a ‘yeah, I’m vaccinated” we are in a macabre covid waltz of denial. 780 people died today. May 14, 2021. Yep. It’s still a pandemic.
As we Unmask and emerge back into the light, I hope we are remembering 2020. I hope on some nights we will still clap for our workers. I hope employers will understand the real value of their employees. I hope we grow stronger in our desire for a better world. I hope….