📅 Three Things I've Learned Over the Last 12 Months
We marked the one year anniversary of the pandemic here in the U.S. last week. Here's what I've learned during the year of COVID:
1. Companies are perfectly capable of paying workers a living wage
Even during tough economic times.
Know how I know? Because they did it for months last year. Thousands of companies temporarily increased worker pay in order to support essential workers. And as they did, their stock prices hit record highs. We know that paying workers a fair wage is good for long-term profitability, but the pandemic proved that it is also good for the short-term prospects of most businesses, especially large ones.
Yet many companies haven't learned this lesson. Instead, some that are now reaping record pandemic-era profits and saving millions on rent and property upkeep, are seeking to cut the pay of remote workers to pad their bottom line even further.
Others continue to argue that a $15 minimum wage is too onerous a burden to bear. Even the very visible misery of the largest recession in over a 100 years wasn't enough to convince Congress to raise the federal minimum wage this month.
We've had mountains of pre-pandemic research suggesting that a higher federal minimum wage is good for business. Higher minimum wages reduce employee turnover and the number of days employees call out sick. The benefits accrue to entire communities. Every state with a wage higher than the federal minimum has been doing great over the last decade. States with higher minimum wages have added jobs for years at rates higher than their lower minimum wage counterparts, even during the pandemic.
Be like Costco
If altruism, business sense or the economics of a strong workforce isn't enough to convince companies to support a federal minimum wage hike, perhaps peer pressure will be. Last month, in response to Congress' inability to raise the minimum wage, Costco did it anyway - to $16 an hour.
In explaining his decision during a hearing on the Hill, Costco CEO Craig Jelinek said:
"I want to note this isn't altruism. At Costco we know that paying employees good wages ... makes sense for our business and constitutes a significant competitive advantage for us. It helps us in the long run by minimizing turnover and maximizing employee productivity."
2. Health care sucks
The pandemic has unveiled the diseased underbelly of the American health care system in stark relief:
Health insurance should not be tied to employment. When people lose their job in the U.S., they also lose their health care. An economic depression (especially one caused by health-related issues like a pandemic) results directly in the loss of health care, which makes it harder for the sick to ever get back to work, which makes it harder for the country to ever pull out of the depression. It is a spiraling problem. It also doesn't help that the ACA is an inadequate panacea.
A health care system built around profits instead of patients prioritizes patients with acute cases of rare diseases that are highly profitable to treat and cure. This kind of system, our system, breaks down when confronted with a massive surge of patients suffering from a national, preventative public health emergency such as a flu-like novel coronavirus.
Structural inequality on the basis of race corrupts every facet of the American health care system. A disproportionate number of the 500,000+ Americans who have died from the pandemic are Black. And they still struggle to obtain access to vaccines. We have few Black doctors and nurses in America, and few, if any quality hospitals and clinics in Black-majority neighborhoods.
500,000 people. I think that's enough dead Americans to convince our leaders that our health system isn't really a "care" system at all. It's on life support.
Be like Kaiser Permanente
Perhaps the closest thing we have to a national health care system in the United States is what Kaiser Permanente offers its members: relatively good health care focused on preventative care at affordable prices. As a non-profit, Kaiser has done well in responding to the pandemic with limited resources and information. In California, Kaiser has taken the lead in prioritizing delivery of care to diverse populations. Last year it funded the hiring and training of 500 full-time linguistically and culturally competent workers to support vaccinations for the diverse communities that Kaiser serves.
3. We can do better. Even in bad times.
Yet, I've also learned that we can do amazing things, even in tough times.
Despite the pandemic, we voted like never before - breaking voter turnout records set over a 100 years back. Social distancing may have made in-person voting difficult, but we rallied to mail in our ballots. Some still showed up in person, braving cold weather and unbelievably long lines to cast their ballot. Even as turnout went up, voter fraud remained almost non-existent. After the votes were cast Americans fought off misinformation (for the most part) and even Twitter finally wised up and banned demagogues and dangerous politicians, including Trump, from its platform. Voting rights are under unprecedented assault currently and there is a lot of work to be done, but last year was still good times for the right to vote.
Despite the pandemic - Americans across the country from all walks of life marched for months for racial justice. Old, young, Black, white - people who never imagined themselves publicly protesting anything nonetheless found themselves marching in solidarity and demanding an end to police brutality. American corporations, hardly known for their commitment to social justice or courage as a group, pledged millions to build more equitable workplaces and communities, even in the midst of a belt-tightening economic recession.
Despite the pandemic - we created a vaccine in record time. Even in the face of rising and troubling anti-science trends in the country, science still won. And though the vaccine rollout has been sloppy and the number of lives lost an untold tragedy ... by developing not one, but two vaccines in ten short months we have achieved something experts thought was impossible last March.
It's easy for people like me - trained to find and fix the problems in society - to only focus on the bad stuff in the world. Given the hell of a year we've just had, its hard to blame anyone for having a myopically pessimistic world view. But thinking this way isn't really that productive is it? Thinking of all the bad stuff doesn't move us forward. It only keeps us mired in the muck of the past.
And the last thing we need now is to stay stuck in the crapfest that was the last 12 months. Here's to focusing on what we did right and doing more of it 🥂
Friend (and UnfairNation podcast guest) Ari Paul is looking to hire for a few commercial roles @ Brightline - a company building the future of transit.
The Muslim Bar Association of New York is seeking a part-time paid remote intern. More details and job description here.
Watching: Nothing. Zoom kills any appetite for television lately.
Speaking: About income inequality on the WeTheAliens podcast
Going: to Phoenix, AZ
A Myanmar surgeon’s daughter was born on Monday, the day of the coup. He greeted his newborn and then led medical workers in a civil disobedience campaign.
“If we acquiesce, it’s like we are in the morgue,” he said.
A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.