Damian Levine moved to New York City from Popayán, Colombia, in January, hoping to start the new year with a new job in the city’s promising environment. Four months later, Levine, 25, did not expect he would find himself carrying the burden of being an essential worker during the coronavirus pandemic.
Levine works two jobs. He fills online orders made through Amazon at Whole Foods. His second job, at a Brooklyn New York supermarket, he labels products and keeps inventory.
For some workers like Levine who are risking their health to provide essential services for minimum wage, their paychecks are not enough to live comfortably or get ahead.
Nationwide, essential employees earn an average of 18.2% less than employees in other industries, according to a report from consultancy business.org.
Retail salespersons, postal service mail carriers, light truck drivers, cashiers, janitors, and cleaners are among some of the jobs considered essential. Although companies such as Amazon and Kroger paid workers an extra $2 to work during the pandemic, that still not enough for workers like Levine, and the extra pay, so far, is temporary. Amazon will stop paying workers the extra wage starting June. Meanwhile, Kroger said it will give “thank you” pay to frontline workers through mid-June. Levine worked 50 hours in the week leading up to Memorial Day weekend at Amazon alone by working five, 10-hour shifts. Most of his check goes toward his rent, which he splits with six other essential workers living with him in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. After a day’s work, they all take precautions when entering their home, such as removing their clothes and disinfecting themselves.
In cities and states across the U.S., such as New York City where median household income reaches $60,762, what is considered poverty-level varies. The poverty threshold in New York is $33,562, according to a 2017 report from the Mayor’s office. Over 62% of residents were considered under or near the poverty rate.