Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Thinks Fighting Income Inequality Is a Higher Priority Than Getting People Back to Work

"I think a lot of people should just say, 'No. We're not going back to that.'"


Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) argued in an interview released Wednesday that much of the public should just say "no" to going back to work after COVID-19 subsides.

Appearing on Vice TV's Seat at the Table, the democratic-socialist legislator declared that workers should fundamentally reject the current system, which she claims is preventing people from maintaining a proper work-life balance.

"Only in America, does the president, when the president tweets about liberation, does he mean 'Go back to work,'" the congresswoman said. "We have this discussion about 'going back' or 'reopening'—I think a lot of people should just say, 'No. We're not going back to that. We're not going back to working 70-hour weeks just so that we can put food on the table and not feel any sort of semblance of security in our lives.'"

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average U.S. workweek is 34 hours, not 70. However, Ocasio-Cortez appears to think 70-hour workweeks are commonplace: "Unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs," she told the PBS program Firing Line in 2018. "Unemployment is low because people are working 60, 70, 80 hours a week and can barely feed their family." Only 8.3 percent of people have more than one job, according to the most recent Census data.

In any event, the congresswoman is yet another politician using the COVID-19 crisis to push for policies that have little or no connection to the pandemic.

In Ocasio-Cortez's case, that means placing the fight for income equality above reviving a wrecked economy in which more than 26 million people have filed for unemployment in the last five weeks. Instead, it is time for those same people—many of whom are unable to provide for themselves and their families—to insist on better pay and benefits if they are to return to work at all.

This is par for the course for Ocasio-Cortez, whose first Green New Deal overview extended far beyond climate issues by stipulating that the government should provide "economic security for all those who are unable or unwilling to work." [Emphasis added.]

Zoom out, and you can see in the congresswoman's positions the belief that technological advances should reduce the role of work in our lives, not just change the way we clock in. While some liberal lawmakers have proposed finding disincentives for automating low-skilled work, Ocasio-Cortez says automation is an opportunity to pay humans what we don't have to pay robots.

"We should be excited about automation, because what it could potentially mean is more time educating ourselves, more time creating art, more time investing in and investigating the sciences, more time focused on invention, more time going to space, more time enjoying the world that we live in," she said last year in explaining why she supports a robot tax. "Because not all creativity needs to be bonded by wage."

Right now, many Americans would probably prefer to have their old jobs back—crummy hours and all—rather than sit around doing nothing and not getting paid for the privilege.