Essential Workers

Driving along the Interboro – – excuse me, Jackie Robinson – – Parkway, one passes through several cemeteries. It’s a common site around here. When several of New York City’s highways were constructed in the early 20th century, they literally cut through cemeteries and many graves were relocated.

What I see now shocks me. Last weekend I counted at least a dozen mounds of fresh earth, and several more open sites ready for an interment. Funeral directors report at least triple their normal business, with many more cremations than usual due to long waits for burial. Hamlet’s gravediggers didn’t think of themselves as “essential workers” but they were. In a time of plague, it’s not just the butcher and the baker who keep us moving forward; it’s also the teamster, the apothecary, the embalmer.

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that it’s the people at the bottom — the minimum-wage workers — whom we most rely upon. The stockbrokers and hedge fund managers aren’t going to help us get through this. The nurses, grocery clerks, letter carriers, and, yes, the gravediggers, are the ones we need.

It’s time for us to rethink how we value, and reward, work.

3 thoughts on “Essential Workers”

  1. Of course, it’s low hanging fruit, but can we revisit what we are willing to pay athletes and celebrities?

    1. Sure, but let’s maybe start with something easier to accomplish through legislation. Like not pretending investment managers are investing their own money so they get taxed at a lower rate. The theory seems to be that if we don’t give hedge fund managers (sorry to pick on them) preferred treatment they won’t do that work, or all the hedge fund jobs will move offshore.

      So let’s have an honest and clear-eyed debate about that. Not one where the loudest voices win. (There I go, playing the dreamy idealist again. I know it’ll never happen.)

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