Just a few weeks ago I stopped by a local membership warehouse store to stock up on items to keep my family safe from Covid-19. At the time, earlier in March, I believe most Americans were cautious but not yet as panicked and scared as they are now mid quarantine for us New Yorkers.
Since I’m the one who mostly shops for my blended family, I thought I was being smart and ahead of the curve on buying items I believed would be highly sought after. As an educator working in higher education for over twenty years, I have long been a fan and frequent user of hand sanitizer, disinfecting my work area daily and frequent hand washing. So purchasing the now high demand items was nothing new to me.
But for those who must use these products often in large quantities it is a different story. Think of early childhood educators, delivery drivers, restaurant and healthcare workers.
My local warehouse store was one of the first to place limits on the number of items a member could buy which then limited customers to two of the high demand items (disinfectant spray, wipes, water and toilet paper.) Hand sanitizer had long been sold out and back ordered, according to the stock person patrolling the aisles. Since then the limit has been reduced to only one item per member. Within minutes my typical weekly food allowance was exhausted and I had no food for my family, only club sized versions of cleaning supplies.
Like most people in our nation, including people considered middle class like me, I live mostly check to check with very little flexibility if a major financial expense should arise. But unlike a lot of people classified as lower income, working class or at or below the poverty line, I do have a little wiggle room as to what bills I can prioritize, or the benefit of a good credit score to extend credit in a real crisis if needed.
But what about those who don’t have such financial flexibility.
According to USA Today, over 49.3 million people working part time, 11.4% live below the poverty line, closely in line with the 11.8% overall poverty rate.
What if any flexibility do these workers have when it comes to prioritizing food over bills or in this case cleaning supplies?
I never thought having access to a membership warehouse was a privilege until I drove right next door to a neighboring supermarket where trying to purchase the scarce cleaning supplies that remained (for those who could afford it) was like the Hunger Games.
And things were no better at local dollar stores where people who struggle to get by and cost conscious families count on for cleaning supplies and other household necessities.
It broke my heart to learn from a part time worker at the Dollar store, and who also works part time at the same State college I work for, that opportunist cleaned out this and other local dollar stores of affordable cleaning items looking to jack up prices and upsell dollar bottles of sanitizer and wipes online for a ridiculous cost.
I instantly thought about all the local childcare providers nearby that have tight budgets and no contracts with large vendors. These essential places to care for children so parents can work rely on purchases from local stores to keep their facilities clean and safe for our most precious and vulnerable little ones.
“COVID-19 has shown that our society cannot function if parents cannot find safe child care for their children, and right now childcare providers are not even able to find baby wipes and cleaning supplies to keep kids and early childhood educators safe,” said LaDon Love from SPACES in Action, an advocacy group in DC that organizers child care educators and advocates for their rights. “Child care is part of America’s economic infrastructure as it is an essential service for children living in America, how can providers be expected to open and care for the children of first responders during this crisis if they don’t have access to cleaning supplies?”
As a mother of four, believe me I understand the natural instinct to only think of your immediate family especially in a crisis. Some might even argue that we are born and bred this way, but I urge you to think past your immediate family the next time you want to hoard high demand items during a pandemic. If this national disaster has taught us nothing else, it has painlessly shown how much we all need and rely on each other. It has also demonstrated that often the lowest paid and least respected workers are the people we rely on in a crisis. So when things return, if they return to our previous normal, let’s treat them with the respect they deserve and pay them their true worth.