Many of Bloomington’s nearly 5,000 food and beverage workers have been left without a paycheck for the foreseeable future. After Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered restaurants and bars to cease dine-in services nearly two weeks ago, tens of thousands of workers across Indiana, particularly service workers, were told they were laid off or would stop receiving pay.
“We’re all wondering what our next meal’s going to be or how rent’s going to be paid,” said Sym Kinney, a bartender at Blockhouse Bar. “We don’t have a job where we can work remotely and still be paid.”
Last week, more than 3 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance, surpassing the previous record four times over. So far, the federal government’s response to the pandemic has not included wage-retention programs for these newly unemployed workers, forcing many to rely on community support to fill the gap.
In Bloomington, mutual aid groups, GoFundMe campaigns and virtual tip jars have proliferated in the pandemic’s midst. Service workers without a job and lacking substantive government assistance need the full support of Bloomington residents.
Many of these community support projects have enjoyed initial success, but there is a fear that the support will lessen over time, Kinney said.
“The support has been overwhelming,” Uptown Cafe bartender Violetta Szalavar said. “I think Bloomington is very fortunate in the sense that everyone is in this ‘local supports local’ mindset.”
Conference Board, a business research group, forecasted three possible scenarios for the U.S. economy on Tuesday and predicted an economic recovery is most likely to occur in the summer or fall. This indicates that the crisis may continue for several more months.
The long-term implications for laid-off workers are dire. In the coming months, bills will still need to be paid and groceries will still need to be bought.
“People really do need to stay home and use social distancing to get us back to work as quickly as possible,” said Bluebird bartender Latham Emmons. “Otherwise, we run the serious risk of having a secondary outbreak, which keeps all the bars shut down longer.”
While the U.S. has focused recovery aid on the stock market and large companies, other countries have rightly guaranteed pay to temporarily laid-off workers. In South Korea, the government is covering 70% of wages. The United Kingdom’s Conservative government announced it will pay 80% of lost salaries. Given the U.S. government’s poor response to both the public health and economic crises, community support is essential to our collective well-being.
Measures that help pay wages do not only protect workers’ livelihoods. They also prevent mass unemployment from becoming a laggard for the national economy. If service workers have savings, they will likely not last through the duration of the crisis. This will decrease consumption and slowing recovery overall.
“I’m trying to move to Chicago in August,” Szalavari said. “I’ve been saving up for that, so it’s not necessarily a rainy day fund, but right now that’s what it’s had to turn into.”
Despite the difficulties service workers face, some are trying to promote a sense of community through the crisis. Kinney, for example, operates a virtual bar over Facebook Live, where trivia participants are met by the adage, “Don’t be lonely alone.”
Normally, service-workers provide us relief, convenience and kindness. Many have always been reliant on your tips, and a pandemic is no time to stiff them. If you can afford it, you should leave a virtual tip for workers at their favorite restaurant or bar.
“If you normally go out on a Tuesday night, and tonight you’re eating or drinking at home, think about the bar or restaurant you would usually go to,” Kinney said. “Donate $5 or $10, that will matter.”
Kyle Linder (he/him) is a junior studying journalism and international relations. He plans to pursue a career in media.