COVID-19: Invisible Frontline

We are now over a month into the COVID crisis.  While the disease is new and hard to deal with, what is not new is the social inequities that have only grown during this crisis. This disease has really highlighted the horrific ways in which our country has treated low wage workers, gig workers, and undocumented workers. It has demonstrated that we need to have a real conversation about a national medical response to a national medical emergency. 

This crisis has demonstrated how dependent we, as a nation, are on an invisible frontline of undocumented workers. These workers usually try to fly under the radar, working very hard for low wages, and are subject to wage theft, injury, and even death on the job.

Let’s be clear, undocumented workers pay taxes. Many use an ITIN (individual tax identification numbers) to pay taxes.  

The federal government’s response in providing a stimulus check to every American made sense. What didn’t make sense and seemed unnecessarily cruel was to exclude workers that paid taxes with an ITIN. The IRS in 1996 set up this program for taxpayers that could not get a social security number. In 2019, undocumented workers with ITINs paid an estimated $27.9 billion in taxes! They will not see any relief in unemployment insurance and will not receive a stimulus check. 

Many will actually work more on the frontlines cleaning, serving, grocery store clerking while trying to eek out a living to pay rent. Many will be risking their lives, that of their children, and neighbors to try and make it. It’s a public safety issue. We should be encouraging all people to stay home with the resources necessary to do so. 

America doesn’t run on Dunkin Donuts. It runs on low wage workers. It runs on exploitation. This crisis only further demonstrated how we as a nation had accepted an invisible worker forces’ labor for decades. We accepted, benefited, and grew rich off of their labor and are offering nothing in return.

We should do better. We have the funds (maybe not the leadership) and could humble ourselves and learn from this moment. We cannot go back to normal. We already normalized exploitation. We need to rise to the occasion.