COVID-19. Just four months ago as we entered a new decade, the thought of such a virus disrupting our lives was unimaginable. For the first-time ever in American history, we now find all 50 states under a disaster declaration. The health care system has been stretched beyond its limits and thousands of people have died from the Coronavirus. The United States is essentially shut down, living under ‘Shelter-at-Home’ orders and our economy, robust just two months ago, is now at a standstill.
As Americans do in all times of national crisis, we have come together and are doing what needs to be done. Nurses, doctors and medical personnel in our hospitals have worked around the clock, above and beyond the ‘call of duty’, treating those who were stricken with the virus and risking their own health in the process. First responders, be they policemen, firemen and paramedics have continued to answer emergency calls without hesitation as they always do, knowing that every call could expose them to the deadly virus. Truck drivers, warehousemen and everyone who plays a role in supply chain logistics have done whatever they needed to do to make sure everything from food stuffs to medical supplies reached their destinations in a timely and secure fashion. And most of us have done what we were supposed to do – we have stayed at home to help ‘flatten the curve.’ We are an amazingly resilient, resourceful, compassionate country when it comes to dealing with crises, and in this case, a crisis the likes of which we have not seen in modern times.
And of course, Americans have reached out in a variety of ways to say “Thank you” to all the people and groups I have mentioned above. And rightly so, for they all have put themselves at risk for us. But for some reason, just saying “Thank you” doesn’t seem like enough. This time, I think we need to do more. Let me explain.
I’m suddenly seeing our world, our way of life in America, through a different lens. I have always been a believer in our way of life in America. I believe in our free enterprise system and I fully support free markets and competition in the workplace. But this pandemic has impacted our lives so dramatically that it has me asking a different question, “Who are the people that really deliver true value to our society?”
In our society, our free market has always determined what products and/or services have value, and in turn, ‘that value’ drives how people are compensated. But, the pandemic has made it clear that many people making average or less that average money are the ones delivering the truly essential, life-saving services. With that in mind and considering what the “new normal” might look like, do we need to realign our priorities and consider how people are compensated in the workplace? For example, what about doctors, nurses, other medical personnel, paramedics, policemen, firemen and critical supply chain workers; are these people paid enough for what they do? Here’s some food for thought.
What does the highest-paid cornerback playing in the NFL do that makes him worth $16+ million a year when a nurse working in ICU makes $65,000 a year? That nurse may have to make ‘life and death decisions’ in his/her line of work every day but would have to work over 247 years to equal what that cornerback will make in a single season. Or consider that the median pay for a starting pitcher in MLB is $5.2 million a year but the median pay for middle school teachers is $58,600 with some earning less than $39,000 a year. How can we justify that kind of workplace compensation disparity in society? What does this say about our values?
Hmmm, that’s a group we haven’t talked about – teachers. The closing of our schools forced teachers to develop e-learning curriculums so parents could do home schooling for the first time ever. In doing so, most parents have learned that being a teacher is much more difficult than many of them ever thought it was. So, do you think we are paying our school teachers enough? After all, we put the future of our country in their hands every day.
Now, I don’t portend to have all the answers to the questions I ask in these blogs but here’s what I am trying to say. This COVID-19 has been a huge wake-up call for ALL of us! So I’m going to ask one of my favorite questions once again – WHAT REALLY MATTERS? Right now, in mid-April 2020, I think many of us might answer that question much differently than we did just three months ago. More than ever before, this is a time when we need to re-visit our ‘big picture’ priorities as Americans and ask ourselves what really is important in our lives. And, as part of that thought process, we need to ask this question, “Are we paying people the way they should be paid based upon the real value they deliver to society?”
I don’t think we are. And this time just saying “Thank you” ISN’T ENOUGH!