By Edward Svetkey
The 2020 Election was far from insignificant. On the cusp of a pandemic that will change the world forever, 20 Democrats try to gain leverage over one another by differentiating themselves. Andrew Yang, a Washnington outsider, gained leverage during the democratic debates with his stance on the future of automation and job displacement. The fear that with automation comes massive job displacement is not something that has been at the forefront of political debates probably since the turn of the century. However, not even Andrew Yang could have foreseen that massive job displacement wouldn’t be the result of a new Industrial Revolution, but the result of a Worldwide pandemic that has left almost 15% of our nation’s population unemployed and has left over 400,000 people without their lives. The ability to retrain or secure people’s employment is a vital reaction to either a catastrophic event or just the natural progression of our technology. Debbie Demetra, a New Orleans local, works at Tulane University as a dining hall worker. In March of 2020 she was working at Tulane’s new dining hall, The Commons. Making a living to support her three kids. March 9th is when everything changed. Debbie tested positive for a disease that was at the forefront of a nationwide panic. She was then hospitalized for 15 days. In addition to the terror that was going through her mind, the very medium in which her job depends, completely disbands and discontinues. To much of her and everyone else’s surprise, the University shuts down. In addition to not knowing what her financial future entails, her health was left hanging in the balance. During a time where as a nation, we did not know how dangerous this virus was, specifically for older people, Debbie was worried. A fear and a feeling of uncertainty engulfs her psyche. Will she be ok? Will she be able to make enough money to support her family? These questions are representative of how millions of people felt when the place where they worked was no longer in commision.
Tulane University was quick with a solution. They kept Debbie as well as everyone else who worked at the dining hall on their payroll and the university ensured that her job will be secure when Tulane reopened in the fall. In a time of such great uncertainty, security is a privilege that is coveted and not always ensured. Solving the seemingly impossible problem of job displacement, especially when it’s due to a pandemic that has altered the way our global economy operates, is not close to being done. Tulane was in a rare position where they were able and willing to support the people who have supported the Tulane community for years, its workers. In a time of despair and misfortune, the caring disposition of entities to help the people who need it most is what holds our society together. However this situation is not ubiquitous. The fear and uneasiness of uncertainty was not remedied for most Americans. Much of their fear persists. Much of their lives were decimated. What if Debbie’s job was not secured? What if she was not financially compensated during the shutdown of Universities? Would she be able to get another job? Are there retraining programs available so she can get another job? These questions pose a greater issue. On whether or not the United States has an economic infrastructure that allows for job mobility of lower income people.
Debbie quickly recovered from Covid 19. Her job was secured and she was reinstated as a Tulane commons worker in August. The lives of people are, in many ways, in our hands. We can choose to neglect or we can choose to help. In times of devestatetion, one’s livelihood comes to a halt. And in times of devastation it is not only the noble duty of our community and of our society to help those who need it most, but it is the very ethos of what New Orleans represents. From Katrina to Covid, the New Orleanian community has proven that help can come from within. As I left my interview with Debbie, I
saw people. I saw people working and I saw people adapting. Hope is not naivety. With devastation comes despair. But the ability to adapt to one’s environment is what New Orleans does best.