Every Worker Is an Essential Worker

A great deal of COVID-19 policy assumed otherwise.


Politicians have too much power over our lives.

Many used the pandemic as another excuse to take more.

Early on, politicians declared that they would decide who was "essential." Everyone else was told to stay home.

Much of the economy stopped. Millions were laid off.

Then politicians relaxed the rules for industries that they deemed "essential."

"You can't just call somebody essential without implicitly suggesting that half the workforce is not essential," points out Mike Rowe, host of the surprise hit TV series Dirty Jobs.

That's a big problem, says Rowe, because people find purpose in work.

Now the Biden administration is eager to give money to people not working. It's pushing a new stimulus package that would pay the unemployed an additional $400/week.

Since states like mine tack on as much as $500/week in unemployment benefits, many people learn that the $900/week leaves them with more money if they don't go back to work.

So, many don't.

But staying home imposes costs, too. Calls to suicide hotlines are up. Domestic violence is up.

"It's happening because people simply don't feel valued," says Rowe.

Politicians claim they save lives when they order businesses to close. When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a lockdown, he said, "If everything we do saves just one life, I'll be happy."

Rowe mocks that in my new video this week.

"Let's knock the speed limit down to 10 miles an hour… make cars out of rubber… make everybody wear a helmet," he says. "Cars are a lot safer in the driveway… ships a lot safer when they don't leave harbor, and people are safer when they sit quietly in their basements, but that's not why cars, ships and people are on the planet."

Rowe points out that working and accomplishing things are big parts of what makes life worth living. He runs a foundation that gives scholarships to people to help them learn trades like construction.

Of course, construction is dangerous. Some people get killed. Cuomo, should we stop building things?

Rowe likes the phrase, "Safety third!" as a response to people who constantly preach, "Safety first!"

"The ones who really get it done—they're not out there talking about safety first. They know that other things come first… Every single time I've hurt myself, it's always been in that fraction of a moment where I take my eye off the ball and I start to think that maybe somebody somewhere cares more about my well-being than me," he says.

Rowe says COVID-19 challenges us "to figure out how to live in a dangerous world. But guess what? That that's always been the case."

He cites C.S. Lewis' essay, "On Living in an Atomic Age," in which Lewis asks: "How are we supposed to live in a world with atomic weapons when everything could be over like that?" Lewis answered: "The same way we lived in a world when the Vikings could land on the shore a thousand years ago and raid villages."

There's more to life than worrying about our death, writes Lewis: "We must resolutely train ourselves to feel that the survival of Man on this Earth… is not worth having unless it can be had by honorable and merciful means."

COVID-19 is "just different," says Rowe. "We'd be well-advised to understand where the risks are. And then we'd be better advised to go about the business of living the only life we have."


NEXT: COVID-19 Edicts Highlight the Importance of Structural Limits on Government Power

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  1. When Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a lockdown, he said, “If everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”

    And then he sacrificed 15,000+ nursing home patients to save that life.

    1. Yes. Because that’s what politicians do. That one life got him good press. Those 15,000 lives were swept under the rug by the accomplice media.

      1. The death of one is a tragedy, the death of 15,000 is just a statistic

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    2. And tried to keep [much of] it a secret.

      If Cuomo doesn’t go down over his horrible governance, then no one should.

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  2. Always correct and inspiring as usual. However it’s not enough to preach to the choir. We must all go out and share the gospel. And we should have started that a year ago. That’s why were in this predicament – too many of us refused to fight when we could. Here’s me back in July:

    If you can go to walmart you can go to disney land. And yes it’s just as essential. You don’t really have to go to walmart – just ask your neighbor to get you what you need. And if none will – ask yourself why not?

    Cue the pathetic excuses for cowardice:

  3. Every government employee is essentially unessential.

    1. Yup. My politician school board member neighbor berated me early on for going to work (masked of course). “Oh do be careful!” she said. Yet from day one she attended school board meetings in person. Now I have to be at work in person because I have equipment I need. But the damned school board can meet on Zoom just like they force their classes to be on Zoom.

      Don’t fucking tell me not to go into work when you yourself insist on your political meetings in person.

  4. If work is so important to us why would people sit at home collecting unemployment insurance? I suspect that people who would stay at home don’t really have the type of jobs that provide the fulfillment Rowe and Stossel advocate. I was lucky to have a job that I liked very much, but I have in the course of my work career met people who were putting in time. So if you can not get workers because unemployment insurance is a better deal for them, then maybe your not paying enough or looking at the job to see what people need.

    Mike Rowe make a good living showing people what other jobs are like. Is fun to see dirty jobs or the unusual. Maybe he should start a new show called “Soul Sucking Jobs” where he works for a couple weeks at jobs that have low pay and high turnover rates. He could end each episode by saying “kids stay in school and study so you don’t end up here”.

    1. Because the real epidemics in America are laziness and entitlement, and they’re getting worse, especially among the young.

      It’s possible that this might be the inevitable downside result of things getting better for several decades: each new generation becomes a little more spoiled rotten and expects everything in life to always be easy for them, because that was their experience growing up.

      1. What utter horseshit. Modern Americans work more than medieval peasants

        The rationalizing crap you offer is a remnant of the plague. The Black Death created a huge labor shortage. In response, the powers that be structurally tilted the market against true basic economic labor (human energy/time that cannot be ‘stored’ hence cannot be arbitraged over time). Mandating that people work according to those mandates. Forcing them to pay more for those things (like land/rent) that had not been affected by the plague at all. Creating an ethic about all that as if those post-plague changes came from God. Privatizing the land for some so that the landless remnant would be forced into submission (true serfdom) or onto that land (market towns –> cities) held under a different charter where there would then be a perpetual surplus of labor. Hello Dickens.

        All of it rationalized by wannabe slave overseers like you. Work harder. Get nowhere (for generations). Work harder. Leisure is for the landed. For the overseer. The same shit of the King Cotton planterocracy.

        1. Yet; you point your finger everywhere except for where it belongs.
          HINT, HINT: The MORE you WORK the MORE they TAKE.

        2. The victim is strong in this one. Sorry your life sucks, but in all probability [given the opportunities that exist in our world at this time] that is mostly your own fault. Enjoy your resentment, which I liken to taking poison and expecting those you resent to get sick.

          1. If I’m a libertarian (or more accurately classical liberal) who is focused more on the liberty of those who have none – at the bottom – rather than on the liberty of those at the top – who may have all the liberty they want but regardless sure don’t need my help — well so be it.

            I find it silly beyond belief that you think a political philosophy ISN’T grounded in the idea that power is not equitably distributed as is.

        3. I don’t know who runs that shit site you linked to, but it’s as completely full of crap as you are. Only a complete fool would seriously believe the average medieval peasant worked fewer than 40 hours a week. Even the 12 year olds had to work harder than your sorry ass does.

          And the slave overseer comment is pure projection on your part. Go take another dick up your gaping asshole, you fucking faggot.

          1. No, if you averaged it out over the course of a year, they did work less than that. There simply wasn’t much for them to do for much of the year. Those who were out in the fields couldn’t do much off-season, and they hadn’t worked out how to get more than an annual growing season out of the land, and in some places not even that. Skilled workers in towns could do stuff year round, but poor inland transportation put a cap on division of labor, so there would be few customers for the goods and services of many of them.

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            2. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe you. AT ALL. Because that implies that farmers ONLY worked the fields. There was a substantial amount of chores that had to be done elsewhere. Tools to be mended, buildings to be built, basic necessities to be cared for. Just chopping wood to not freeze in winter was a full time job. Then, all the housework would have to be done, without any of the modern conveniences.

              Think for one blinking minute. If being a farmer required less work than our current workweek, which is the result of centuries of labor reductions to a 12 hour, then a 10 hour, and finally an 8 hour work day, why would anyone have flocked to factories to triple their workload?

              You have to be very well educated to be so willfully ignorant

        4. I don’t know whether all of that is true, but I do think that what we usually think of as conservatism today was a combined result of the reactions to the medieval plagues and the crusades.

          1. That may be true. Maybe an even older conservatism can take hold.

            The Medieval Work Week Party. Mandating a three day weekend and an 8 hour day except during harvest season. Now recruiting at your local Renaissance Faire.

      2. Lazy and entitled have been human symptoms since the beginning of times. Popular acceptance of it has destroyed people since the beginning of times.

        It’s the human condition to find the shortest route to resources.

        Democratic politicians preach their Power-Mad religion to massive amounts of people explaining why threatening others with Gov-Guns and *stealing* and *demanding* of them is A-Okay while projecting and making up silly excuses for such tyrannical and criminal mentality.

        Republican party platform essentially preaches Gov-Guns are only to be used to prevent the Democratic Philosophy (Defensive) of those who try compulsively to *steal* or wrongly makes *demands* of others. Individual Liberty and Justice.

        It all goes back to the fundamental beliefs between *earn* / *steal*.
        Democrats hold the belief that; POWER to STEAL = WEALTH
        Republicans hold the belief that; VALUE = WEALTH

      3. I have found many very ambitious young people. The fact is every generation has lazy people and the fact is lazy people are very good at finding the minimal amount necessary to get by at a job and in the world. It also a fact that people tend to obsess about the lazy. I had a boss many years back that told me to worry about my work and not the other person’s work. It a good lesson for life. There are those that will work less than you and those that will work harder.

    2. Not everyone should go to college [I did, because I was able and benefited from it]; we need people to perform an enormous array of jobs from collecting the trash and serving customers, to installing wiring and plumbing [not bad work by the way] to building rockets and performing surgery. Where you fall along this continuum will closely resemble the bell shaped curve. As Muhammed Ali put it, it comes down to having “skill and will.” We are not equal, and never will be.

      And perhaps not all of our satisfaction should emanate from our jobs; I made the mistake of thinking that when I was younger, and while I have worked as a professional all of my life, that was unrealistic. I have found that my family, social life, and avocations play as much or more a part in that as anything I do for “work.”

      1. Good points. The fact is the doctor is needed as well as the janitor to clean the doctor’s office. Now no one (I hope) would argue that the doctor and janitor should be paid the same. It is also true that the janitor should get paid a reasonable wage for his work and not be exploited.

        1. “It is also true that the janitor should get paid a reasonable wage for his work and not be exploited.”

          And the beauty of a free, and competitive, market is that if he isn’t paid or treated well, he [or she or whatever] can choose to go somewhere else. If you haven’t noticed, the world is far better off than it was twenty to thirty years ago; and that is because of free market capitalism, not government control.

          1. And the beauty of a free, and competitive, market is that if he isn’t paid or treated well, he [or she or whatever] can choose to go somewhere else.

            Actually that’s more the beauty of wishful thinking. The notion that what we actually have is free competitive markets. Especially for those who deny it. It’s their fault.

      2. Agree completely that more than ‘work’ defines and motivates us. It’s not that ‘every worker is an essential worker’. But that every human is an essential human.

        The entire notion that full-time permanent bureaucrats stepped in and decided everything that should be done in response to covid19 is, I suppose, inevitable. Worse that it really involved very little actual public health.

        But the one thing that I think is completely missing right now in the public discussion of this is the PERSONAL evaluation by many many people that the jobs they were in and the pay they receive for that was simply not worth risking their life or not worth any other risk at all. That other priorities were far more important and the pay covered nothing beyond just what was delivered to someone else.

        More than just the priority of small businesses that basic supply/demand feature of their business remain unchanged by covid. More than just the priority by big businesses that their snouts fully occupy the trough that will be laid out. More than just the priority of bureaucrats that their burps and farts become the focus of everyone’s adulation.

        My extended family has used zoom to get together. Far more frequently than the once or twice per year around Tgiving. There is nothing positive in what has directly happened. There are positives as a consequence of it. And one of those, in my family, is that people have rethought the priorities of their own lives a bit. Some more, some less. If that means they will change the political choices they make going forward – well guess what – whose priorities SHOULD determine how people make their political choices?

  5. The “safety first” mantra comes from the fear of lawsuits, not from concern for anyone’s safety.
    The only time I was ever injured at work was because our “safety clown” insisted that I wear a face shield over my safety glasses with side shields. It was a hot day and my face shield fogged over and I drilled a hole through my finger.

    1. #1 issue — Putting people in charge of things they know absolutely nothing about. Gov-Gods generally know nothing about anything but fighting Power struggles. Those who KNOW first-hand the subject are the only one’s who should be inflicting standards.

    2. My uncle sawed his finger off because the safety guard on the saw was getting in the way. Whose fault? His fault.

      The hole drilled in your finger? Your fault because you should not have been drilling with a fogged over shield.

      SAFETY THIRD! You really need to be watching Mike Rowe to understand what that means. It means your safety isn’t the job of the safety clown, it means your safety is your job. And you didn’t do it.

      1. “safety isn’t the job of the safety clown” — Well said….. Only Gov-Guns could possibly supply funding for a full time ‘safety clown’ career.

  6. “Non-essential” is a dangerous euphemism. It is a synonym for “unnecessary,” which I always felt was a more honest term.

    So in 2020 we had the spectacle of American politicians referring to vast swathes of their constituencies as unnecessary people.

  7. Certainly coronavirus has affected so many daily wage workers

  8. Essential worker is a term reminiscent of the line in Schindler’s List where the guy tries to save his own life by pleading that he is essential worker.

    What better way could the rulers in the Anglo/Western world of 2020 evoke class warfare than be claiming some workers are essential, while others are worth Nazi bullets.

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