First, all who produce things we need or want are “essential workers”. Health care practitioners are essential, but so are the people who stock pharmacies and grocery and hardware stores or staff customer service phone lines. Truck drivers are essential. Farmworkers who pick the crops we plan on eating are too. Nothing demonstrates whose work matters in this world better than a pandemic that threatens to pull them off the job.
Second, because they are essential, whatever these workers need is what we all need. If they need a bus to get to work, we all need that bus. If they need childcare, we all need it. Obviously, if they need healthcare or time to stay home and get over an illness or tend to their kids, that’s our need too. And if they need a paycheck that provides secure housing, covers their expenses and gives them a chance to recharge their batteries periodically, we all need them to have it.
A virus does not respect the boundary of skin, the line we draw between ourselves and others. It tells us that “we” is not just an idea or an attitude, but real economic and physical interconnection. It’s true that we are not all in the same boat, that the burden of this pandemic falls unequally according to how much money we have, what neighborhood we live in and how much respect we get from those with power over us. But those inequalities were always in front of us if we were willing to look. It’s the interconnectedness that is suddenly starkly visible.