Are all jobs essential?


Fact Box

  • On March 11, 2020 the Novel Coronavirus Disease, COVID-19, was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. On March 13, 2020 a national emergency was declared in the United States concerning the COVID-19 Outbreak.
  • While states can designate what qualifies as essential, the standard definition of an essential employee is someone that performs work involving the safety of human life and the protection of property, according to the 2013 Essential Services Act.
  • Doctors, law enforcement workers, and grocery workers are included as essential workers. The comprehensive list can be found here
  • On March 18, 2020, President Trump signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which provided additional flexibility for state unemployment insurance agencies and additional administrative funding to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law on March 27. It expands states’ ability to provide unemployment insurance for many workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including for workers who are not ordinarily eligible for unemployment benefits.
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate is currently 13.3 percent.

Daniel (Yes)

Our government’s reaction to the coronavirus pandemic has been ill-coordinated and, in many cases, barely legal or Constitutional.

The labeling of businesses as essential or nonessential throughout the United States is incredibly inconsistent. The various lists differ widely from state to state and from city to city. Why are golf courses open in Davenport, Iowa, but closed just across the Mississippi in Moline, Illinois.

Even if lists were consistent and the general public could understand them, their very existence is contradicted and confronted with the Constitution of the United States of America. Governors who have compiled lists of nonessential jobs rely heavily on the 10th amendment (regarding how powers not explicitly delegated to the federal government are then relegated by default to the states). This reliance is not just a stretch, but an interpretation that contorts its original meaning beyond recognition. If such wanton reading of the Constitution occurred at a federal level, the resulting public outrage would be unparalleled. 

If the 10th amendment is misunderstood in this case, then likewise, the 5th amendment and others could be utterly disregarded. By barring workers from their jobs, they are deprived of their rights to life, liberty, and property without due process of law. This is an abhorrent restraint which tramples upon not only the Constitution, but also the working man. 

State and local governments need to collaborate to compile new regulations for businesses to gear new regulations towards allowing businesses to stay open while also keeping the infection risk to a minimum. Businesses should be given a chance to survive this economic nightmare instead of being told to watch as they slowly wither and die.

Jessica (No)

Essential jobs exist to promote the production and distribution of goods and services necessary to keep citizens alive, safe, and capable of flourishing, thereby keeping society itself afloat. Some essential jobs are more easily detected than others. The production and distribution of food, medicine and medical attention, utilities, and transportation are a few solid examples.

Other jobs are essential for maintaining the current state of society, but are not themselves essential, or necessary, for maximizing the safety and well-being of the citizenry at large. Job loss in a private equity firm or a stock brokerage, for example, is detrimental for the employees affected and the external individuals and businesses with a stake in their operations.

However, these jobs are not essential for keeping society itself afloat and, in many cases, actually thwart the opportunity for widespread human flourishing. Recent studies show that private equity firms, for example, have engaged in questionable practices that eliminate millions of jobs across the country, causing economic instability for everyday people.

Other industries, like coal and oil, are perhaps essential for a modern, capitalist society that needs these resources to maintain its hyper-productivity. However, these industries are not essential for maintaining a functioning society per se – various societies had existed long before these resources were tapped, and others still exist despite them. At the same time, the carbon emissions and pollution these industries disproportionately produce thwart the sustainability efforts of a modern society or those already in poverty. Jobs in these sectors are thus not essential for keeping the majority of the population alive, safe, and capable of flourishing.

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