Edited by Josh Fisher ([email protected]), Western Washington University
The global COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, with brutal clarity, just how quickly the world of work can change. Labor markets have been upended and unemployment numbers continue to climb. Workplaces are shuttered, though the term “homework” has gained new meaning for parents and other caregivers stepping into the role of teacher while tending to remote responsibilities. At the same time, a new category of work has emerged — that which is deemed essential labor. This category includes a striking assortment of jobs in terms of pay or prestige, spanning sectors like health care, law enforcement, agriculture, food service and distribution, energy, waste, transportation, communication, and logistics. Taken as a contemporary social fact, however, essential labor is poised to teach us important lessons about the world of work.