Experience: Facing income insecurity in Calgary during a pandemic

Mar 16 2020, 10:31 pm

Written for Daily Hive by Rae Goff, Social Work Student.

I know there won’t be any shifts this week.

Or next week.

In fact, I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel for wage earners like myself. In light of all the panic-buying, I have a different kind of panic, one that cuts deep while clutching onto a $12 pack of toilet paper.

As a student — like many other young people in Calgary — I have supplemented student loans with wage work. I have just about eight years of retail, serving, and catering under my belt.

There has never been any kind of security, as shifting hours are constantly impacting my income. Now, working for a large events caterer, there’s nothing — no scheduled shifts, no statement from my bosses, and no promises from the premier to help someone in my position.

I tried to plan responsibly, but how does anyone plan for a pandemic? I have savings, just enough for two months of rent in a house I share with four other students and because I worked an unpaid practicum for the last two terms, these small savings are dwindling fast. I recently went through two months of job applications that led to nothing but an empty inbox. There was no conscious choice to accept wage work;  it was simply the only choice.

And I’m not alone.

Facebook pages like YYC Covid-19 Volunteers are full of stories like mine. The panic is clear in postings asking for any kind of work, from dog walking to babysitting. Those with children, understandably, have a particular feeling of desperation. I am lucky to have what little savings I do; to be able to burn through two months of panic, rather than just two weeks.

I am no stranger to income insecurity, given that health concerns in the past have led me to the doors of the student food bank, or the need for emergency funding just to make rent — living paycheck to paycheck is not new.

However, I seriously believe that this is when income desperation can lead to decisions that may end up impacting us all.

As it stands right now, I have no other options but to stay home without any income. But, if I had a choice to work at the mall, a restaurant, or cater a large event, I can’t honestly say I’d be able to turn down that work.

Maybe I would choose to stay home, to lose my job because of my unwillingness to expose myself or others to illness. It has actually happened before; I lost a serving position because I wouldn’t come in while sick with mono. It’s not unreasonable to think that others would be in a similar situation right now.

If the choice is between eviction and exposure, I’m not sure if it’s much of a choice for many Calgarians.

I’m not scared of the virus, I’m scared of what the virus comes with; I’m scared of the uncertainty. I’m scared of losing my home and the life I have been working hard to build.

I’m scared for every hourly wage earner who likely echoes everything I’ve said here, and who, through circumstances outside of their control, may have lost that choice.

With coronavirus on the rise, Health Canada is reminding individuals who attend events and large gatherings to monitor their health for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. And if you’re not feeling well, they recommend staying home at this time. Also, due to unexpected cancellations, please check the event you plan to attend is still taking place. Keep up with COVID-19 news here.

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