What have you always wondered about the economy? Tell Us

Grocery store worker: “I have a lot of anxiety”

Marielle Segarra Mar 24, 2020
A worker stocks groceries at a local supermarket on March 20 in Brooklyn, New York Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Grocery store worker: “I have a lot of anxiety”

Marielle Segarra Mar 24, 2020
A worker stocks groceries at a local supermarket on March 20 in Brooklyn, New York Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Most of us have been told to stay home, to socially distance. But there are many people who can’t do that because their jobs keep the rest of us going. Among them are grocery store clerks, who are currently working under very difficult conditions. 

A Wisconsin Walmart

“People are absolutely panicking,” said Brittney Legowski, who works about 40 hours a week in the grocery pickup department at a Walmart in Menomonie, Wisconsin. “Things are flying off the shelves. We’re extremely low on canned goods, baking supplies, all that sort of stuff.” 

Legowski, 21, is also a local leader with the retail workers advocacy group United for Respect. She said tensions are getting high at her store. One customer berated her coworker because he’d ordered toilet paper and there was none left. “And he refused to leave until a manager talked to him about it and she was screamed at to the point of tears.”

Legowski and her coworkers are panicking too. They’re worried about getting the virus. “I have a lot of anxiety about this, but at the same time, it’s at the point where a lot of us just can’t afford to be scared.”

A Tennessee Publix 

In the midst of a public health crisis, grocery store workers have become essential employees. In fact, several states have just made that status official. 

Ryan Lockwood, 24, works part-time as a cashier at a Publix supermarket in Cleveland, Tennessee. He never imagined he’d be in a situation like this. 

“I knew that retail work gets busy, especially around holidays, but something that I feel like I’m risking my health and the health of people around me to do, that wasn’t even a consideration,” he said. 

His wife, Aubrey has fibromyalgia. “Every time I go to work, I risk bringing the virus back home. And so that weighs on me,” he said. 

Lockwood said he’s trying to be careful. He’s been using hand sanitizer between every customer. But the way some customers are talking worries him; they complain that everyone’s freaking out for no good reason.

“And those customers are kind of disconcerting. Because you know that those customers aren’t doing the necessary washing of hands, social distancing, all of those things that are recommended precautions,” he said.

As afraid as he is, Lockwood has been going to work. He and Aubrey have bills to pay. 

Publix has announced that it will give employees paid sick leave if they get the virus, or symptoms of it, or are quarantined. Walmart will also give paid leave under certain circumstances. 

Walmart has also said it’s giving bonuses to store associates and trying to hire 150,000 workers to keep up with demand.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

Read More


Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.