photo by Donna Ottinger of hummingbird on nest

Why Simply Saying “Stay Home” is Racist and Classist

March 29, 2020, in the time of COVID-19: I learned today that about 3/4 of workers still are on the job during strict “stay home” conditions in MN — which really changed my expectations about connecting via weekday Zoom meetings!

Just saw the report that 78% of jobs in Minnesota (for example) fall into the exempt “essential” category even under the current strict “stay home” order. The 22% of jobs that have completely shut down accounts for 28% of the total MN workforce being fired, laid off, incapable of self-employment, or on leave.*

I’ve been thinking, some folks have to go out to work, but most people are literally staying home, with many trying to work from home (even while also taking care of kids who are out of school).

However, this report** says only about 20% to 30% of medium-income workers have the option of working from home. So that means some parents have just had to quit their jobs in order to stay home and take care of the kids (about 1/4 of homes in the Cities include school-age children). In Minnesota, that is grounds to apply for unemployment, if you have that option, but that’s only part of an income and even that option will vary from state to state.

If you’re among the roughly 50% of “essential” workers who must physically go to your job, your kids might be in a childcare center. All those adults and kids are risking person-to-person infection. I haven’t seen any reports about how many workers in group settings are actually able to stay 6 to 10 feet away from their nearest coworker or customer at all times. Obviously, most people in personal care or healthcare settings cannot do that. I hear grocery store employees are trying. I don’t know about agriculture or manufacturing. The safer these workers are, the safer we all are.

As always in America, class and race are intertwined. Almost 70% of top earners are able to work from home. Only 10% of the lowest income group is able to work from home. And guess which group has a disproportionate number of BIPoC workers?

So doesn’t this mean the simple dictum “Stay home” is an intrinsically racist/classist message?

For families who are able to stay home, access to broadband internet, for school, working, accessing community resources, and keeping in touch with family and friends, is critically important to income, physical and mental health. Yet that also is inequitably distributed. I was surprised to find that according to the 2018 American Community Survey, the “worst connected” cities in Minnesota are the largest cities — not the most rural communities. That survey said broadband internet was absent in 19% of households in Duluth; 17% in Brooklyn Park; 14% in Minneapolis; 13% in Rochester and in Saint Cloud; 12% in Saint Paul; and 11 % in Bloomington. That’s a total of 64,643 households without broadband internet. About 15,000 are probably households with school-aged kids (based on census estimates). How are they supposed to be doing their homework online? I’ve heard there is a push to improve availability and access to internet, statewide, and an agreement by internet providers to support this… Perhaps so that cities and collectives don’t take it into their own hands (we wonder, a bit cynically)… (Sources for this paragraph: and ).

For people who are in detention or incarcerated, or who have no home to “Stay Home” in, person-to-person contact is unavoidable. Resources such as The Justice Collaborative and Prison Policy Project identify and track state responses to issues including decarceration; evictions; food security; and paid sick leave, family leave & expanded unemployment insurance. For the 180,000 people whom Minnesota imprisons each year (with about an equal number returning to community living), public health and humane justice call for changes including:

  • Reduce admissions
  • Release more people
  • Eliminate unnecessary face-to-face contact for justice-involved people
  • Make correctional healthcare humane and efficient in a way that protects both health and human dignity (affordable, accessible, health care and necessities; alleviate overcrowding)
  • Provide free communication with families to reduce emotional stress. (from Prison Policy Project) 
  • STOP Exploiting prison labor; Prison healthcare co-pays; Telecom fees & limitations; Financial services fees; Commissary mark-ups & fees. (from Humane Outbreak Response).

My prayer for this Sunday is:

May everyone who has to work every day in group settings get all the space, cleansers, and PPE (personal protective equipment) they need to stay as safe as possible.

In states, like Minnesota, telling everyone to “stay home” (which really means telling children and about 1/2 the workforce to stay home) — may they pay equal attention to the workers’ safety conditions for the roughly 50% who are required to keep working and cannot work from home.

May we acknowledge and address unjust inequities of income and race in who gets to safely “stay home.”

May we acknowledge and address unjust inequities in how the “Stay Home” order might be enforced — in particular, as Leslie Redmond of NAACP MPLS and others (such as Race Forward and NDLON ) point out, there must be provision to prevent misuse of the order via inequitable police targeting of Black and Brown Minnesotans, and ICE targeting of undocumented workers. Yes, everyone can get COVID and spread it, but these resource point out there are race/class differences in WHY someone might not be “sheltering in place” — and in particular, in the economic, housing, employment, transportation, personal safety, food security, paid sick/safe leave, educational opportunities, access to reliable internet, and other concerns — all these factors might lead someone to NOT be able to “just stay home.” 

Punitive enforcement isn’t the only solution, or the best one. We all need a safety net with stronger threads and fewer holes in it, and we all need a social consciousness that’s truly “broadband.” None of us is truly safe, unless all of us are truly safe. This is always the case, but now, more than ever.

And — this should go without saying, but for heaven’s sake, let’s say it again — may everyone who can safely stay home, STAY HOME.

Read more about it:

Essential Jobs in Minnesota under the Stay Home order:

Not Everybody Can Stay Home: and

Race and Ethnicity Impact COVID-19 Options:

COVID-19 Impact on Migrant and Undocumented Workers:


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4 thoughts on “Why Simply Saying “Stay Home” is Racist and Classist”

  1. Very useful data and comments.
    It seems that “stay home” does not apply to MOST workers in Minnesota.
    So a better expression might have been:

    Then even in-person offices and factories
    can say what they have done to reduce
    the danger of COVID-19 SPREADING
    in that system of employment.

    For example, what changes have taken place in the elevator?
    In the public rest room?
    In the lunch room?
    In meeting rooms?

    Who is having their temperature taken?

    How much time off is offered for possible cases?

    James Leonard Park

  2. Thank you, James… so true, especially now, months later, when we are seeing the impact of caution versus incautious behavior.

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