By Linda Smaligo

We are waiting for things to get back to normal. Just waiting. We are waiting until our government tells us what to do.

A lot of us are killing time, trying to make the best of it — cleaning closets, hanging with our children, being “productive.” Making things fun — I sometimes feel there is a competition for the coolest quarantine family and neighborhood. Waiting for normal to happen.

We are told to wear masks to protect other people from us if we are carrying the virus, but we see many people not bothering to do that. We are told that ordering take-out is good to help the small businesses keep employees working.

We are exhibiting patience, trying to wait it out until things get back to the way they were. The irony is that some of the people working to take care of our food needs can’t afford health insurance and may not be able to afford to get healthcare if they are sick.

I’m not judging anyone for trying to occupy themselves, or if they are working to get through this time. I’m just having a problem not questioning things. Maybe we should use this time planning and thinking. Why are we all in a holding pattern?

What if things get worse? What if things really fail and there is a food shortage? Do any of us know how to provide for ourselves? What if we get through this, take up our lives as usual, and it happens again?

Those of us with financial means have relied on others to grow food for us and get it to the markets and restaurants where we just buy, buy and buy. Are the government stimulus funds going to help community gardens, chicken coops and small companies that process food locally — or are they being snapped up by large corporations? Why aren’t more small businesses getting emergency loans that can turn into grants?

 What is normal and why do we want to get back to it? Normal has been great for some of us — those of us who get to live a good life in this country. Some of us have health insurance, we have homes, we have disposable income that we use to keep the restaurants and stores in business. We go on vacations and keep the resort industry in business. 

But now — our eyes are being opened to the reality that we are being “taken care of” by underpaid workers. They are the service employees that are making hourly wages and tips, most without benefits.

We’ve always known that our service workers were underpaid, but of course we never thought much about it or didn’t want to acknowledge it. Politicians and corporations have long fought against higher minimum wages and affordable health care. Most of us have gone along with this and looked the other way.

Let’s use this time alone to think about paying people more. Grocery store workers, delivery people, waitstaff, cooks, factory workers — every person in this country should be paid a living wage with benefits. Restaurant employees should not have to count on tips to earn a living.

Our government is trying to provide a safety net with unemployment and stimulus checks, but this is temporary, and will all go away when things go back to normal. There’s some rent and mortgage relief being offered, but the money needs to be paid back when things get back to normal. If people were living pay-check to pay-check before the virus, how will they ever get out of debt when this is over?

Maybe now is a good time to change what we consider normal in America. Our current system seems archaic. It’s capitalism gone mad, where we have an upper class and a lower class and not much in between. What passes for our middle class has been struggling for a long time now and most people were not prepared for this emergency.

A new normal can be put in place. I’m not going to call it socialism. It doesn’t have to have a name — we just need to change. Let’s give everyone access to health insurance and a living wage. Our economy will prosper again, but it will prosper even more if all of us are paid fairly for our work and falling sick is not an economic catastrophe. Now, the new normal gives us the chance to make the American dream much more than an American fantasy.

This column was published in the following newspapers:

04/29/2021 Moscow-Pullmand Daily News Moscow-Pullman ID

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