Stay home and save lives, governors have been telling residents since California’s Gavin Newsom led the way on March 19. But sheltering in place is a luxury that many Americans cannot afford, Claire Cain Miller, Sarah Kliff, and Margot Sanger-Katz wrote in the New York Times. “Service industry workers, like those in restaurants, retail, childcare, and the gig economy are much less likely to have paid sick days, the ability to work remotely, or employer-provided health insurance.”
This means many workers must choose between staying home when ill or going to work sick so they can keep getting paid. Only 60% of service industry workers can take paid time off when they are sick — even though they are more likely than white-collar workers to come in contact with other people’s bodies or food, the Times reported. Not to mention that service jobs put workers at increased risk of exposure to the coronavirus in the workplace or commuting, often on public transportation.
In California, which produces over one-third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts, agricultural workers are on the front lines of the pandemic. Charged with keeping the US food supply moving, farmers and farmworkers have been deemed essential by the state (PDF) and federal governments. Yet they remain vulnerable to the coronavirus because they lack adequate protective equipment, work in close proximity to others, and often live in overcrowded housing.