We call this the Covid War and so let’s invest in the front-line soldiers in this war both during their tour of duty and after the war – just like we did with the GI Bill for soldiers who served in our wars. A big difference with our current troops in this war is that these front-line troops not only risk their own lives but also their families who depend on them.
There are some proposals in this direction. Data on essential workers in this post is from the Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program.
Senator Bob Casey made the case for a modern GI Bill on April 14 which later evolved into a Senate proposal for a Heroes Fund which has two components:
“.. a $25,000 premium pay increase for essential workers, equivalent to a raise of $13 per hour from the start of the public health emergency until December 31, 2020, and a $15,000 essential worker recruitment incentive to attract and secure the workforce needed to fight the public health crisis”
Senator Josh Hawley, recommends that businesses be subsidized by 80 percent of wages up to the national median wage to help get the economy going.
It looks like there is an opportunity for bipartisan support on a fine-tuned effort targeting essential workers.
Congress has provided a life line to higher education institutions and this could be a good time to ask these institutions to provide tuition relief for essential workers to complete a degree or certificate.
Congress and the Federal Reserve Bank has also supported financial institutions survive this crisis and they could be asked to provide low cost mortgages to these workers which can be supplemented with federal programs. These workers can be provided with rent or mortgage vouchers to pay for housing.
There is a lot of economic benefit that will come out of this investment:
First, essential workers are a critical mass of active participants in the sectors of the economy with the greatest risk. By investing in these workers, we will keep critical supply lines open. We cannot win any war without a strong supply chain.
Second, essential workers, on average, have very little economic wealth or assets. They tend to live in low-income areas which offer very few avenues for economic mobility. A large investment in their income, skills and assets will be the best economic development strategy in decades.
Third, by investing in these workers today we will be investing in an inter-generational economic development strategy because we will also be investing in their children, who now will have a better quality of life and options to succeed.
Fourth, it is a nationwide strategy that covers rural and urban areas and so they scope and breadth of the strategy is very powerful.
Finally, these workers can jump start the demand at the local level as increases in their income will be felt in the local grocery and other businesses. What we need to come out of the current economic crisis is increased spending.
We know from recent studies that these workers are facing a lot of hardships. What they are getting plenty these days are words of praise – what will be even better is praise with an investment in their current and long-term survival.