The American Dream—people have hung on to those three little words for decades, passed them down for generations. But it’s hard to see how we can believe in the dream right now.

To me, the American Dream is having a well-paying job, having good health insurance, earning benefits for your family, and being a meaningful member of society. Americans want to get up and go to work knowing you earned your way and not depending on others to hand it to you.

Before COVID-19, I was living that dream. I loved my job at a construction, fabrication, and service company, installing pipes and fittings across Ohio and Kentucky.

But the pandemic changed so much. It feels like the American Dream has been shattered. Those of us still working every day were forced to continue our normal routine at our same normal pay. We risked everything daily, and we risked bringing the virus home to our families every day. Daycares began to close, schools began to close, and those of us still working had nowhere for our children to go while we were still expected to be at work daily. We were forced to use vacation days, PTO days, and unpaid time off if we did not have child care or if someone in our household was ill. It does not seem that our lawmakers have taken account of the stress and pressure they put on people who have continued to work during all of this.

Meanwhile, if you lost your job, lawmakers decided to provide unemployment benefits at an alarming rate of pay. So many people manipulated the system to get benefits that others should be receiving. In Ohio alone there has been $330 million paid out in fraudulent benefits; across the U.S., that number is over $36 billion.

It feels like there is no reason for us essential workers to continue pushing on daily. Our lawmakers have given us every reason to leave our jobs and file for unemployment. It would be easier to stay home than to face the challenge of starting over in a world ravaged by a deadly virus. Not having insurance during this time and having no income is completely devastating for a family who has worked so hard to become an example of the American Dream. I know this all too well.

After I contracted COVID-19 and developed medical complications, I had to walk away from my job, losing my insurance as well as my income. My medical bills are in the thousands of dollars, but I don’t qualify for unemployment since I voluntarily left my position. Our lives have been completely changed over the last two months for the worse.

It feels like lawmakers have made no effort to help us at all. They have given us basically nothing, no hope for the future. Instead of the extra checks for the unemployed, they should have sent us essential workers that extra income. They should have made sure we were taken care of as we kept the economy running and continued to risk our lives and our families’ lives daily. Lawmakers in Washington seem to have no clue how this pandemic negatively impacted so many families.

I have always wanted to be a shining light to everyone about how the American Dream is achievable no matter who you are. But this pandemic has destroyed a lot of faith and a lot of trust that people had in the government. I loved my job and hopefully someday I will be able to return, but I feel like it will take years before we can even begin to get back to chasing what we have all been taught is the amazing and incredible American Dream.

Edgerton Essays feature the perspectives of working-class Americans on the challenges facing their communities and families and the debates central to the nation’s politics. If you or someone you know might be interested in contributing to the series, click here for more information.

Ruby Nicole Day
Ruby Nicole Day was raised and currently lives in South Lebanon, Ohio. She is the proud mother of a wonderful 12-year-old son.
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