A “family life coach” position in Aspen pays between $80,000-$100,000—the ideal applicant “wins,” is willing to make time for “overnight stays,” and possesses the “3G’s: Grit, growth, gratitude.” A private teaching position in the Bay Area for a backyard school will net you $120,000 (and a $2,000 UberEats bonus for referrals). Are you a nanny with experience as a camp counselor willing to oversee scavenger hunts and an obstacle course for a family’s private summer camp? Then this Beverly Hills position is perfect for you.
The rich have always sought to create private worlds of their own, cordoned off from the rest of the country and insulated from the violence their resource hoarding inflicts on others. What the coronavirus has provided is a common denominator, a single ongoing event that has exacerbated every existing form of inequality and inspired among the elites a certain kind of brashness about getting what they believe is theirs to take: jumping to the front of the line to get tested, hiring concierge doctors, and organizing private drive-through testing sites. And now, a life uninterrupted by a pandemic while others struggle to secure the basics for themselves and their families.
Across the country, public school systems are trying to develop best practices for another semester of remote learning that will service the tens of millions of parents and kids who depend on these institutions beyond their educational services. This summer, teachers at public and private schools alike have organized against their administrations to ensure their school systems are doing everything possible to protect their students, their communities, and them. And they’ve done this while grappling with the fact that another remote semester will only further set back the students already disproportionately underserved by the education system; in New York City, a recent review by the city’s Independent Budget Office found that the Grab & Go program designed to help feed children at risk of going hungry only distributed a quarter of the meals it usually provided children during in-person schooling.
As many schools have opted to pursue remote learning to start the fall, parents with the means to do so have begun shelling out for private “pod” teachers. A “microschool community” in San Francisco is footing the bill for registered nurses to conduct weekly Covid-19 tests for their hired teachers. Another group, also in the Bay Area, is looking for a Spanish-fluent teacher to keep up with their kindergartners’ language immersion program. In New York City, two parents are looking for a live-in “teacher nanny” to work 40 to 45 hours a week at their house in the suburbs. “You don’t go home until Covid is better contained,” the job listing reads. “You have separate living quarters and you can leave the property whenever you like but on foot.” The pay for this year-round service starts at $70,000 but no worries: “You are welcome to give up your apartment and stay with them for the year and save money.”
These are jobs in a country where millions of people need them—the arrangements might even be an improvement for some teachers—but the dynamic is still a broken one. As of June, the unemployment rate in 20 states was above ten percent while the virus continues to hospitalize and kill a rising number of people in this country. Meanwhile, the main debate being had on Capitol Hill this summer concerned whether the government was distributing too much money to working and middle-class people suddenly out of a job—all while Congress breezily passed a $740 billion defense bill and left for a nice paid summer break.
With the Paycheck Protection Program funds for small businesses from the spring beginning to dry up and the $600 unemployment stimulus expired, thousands of locally owned restaurants now have to choose between closing up shop temporarily or going out of business—and putting their employees out of work—for good. Meanwhile, in Connecticut, a chief executive officer is offering a job for a personal chef at “one of his personal homes.” Bonus points if the candidate has “the ability and desire to organize, clean, and manage the dwelling.” Other, more health-conscious rich families have made compromises—like having their personal chefs cook in the pool house.
These jobs servicing the elite are not random; they are the product of a system that has clearly been designed for one group and not the other. Doing its part to add to the misery, the best–or rather, most telling–plan the White House has been able to foist came in the form of the Ivanka Trump-led “Find Something New” campaign that debuted last month—a public initiative that tried to rebrand the widespread joblessness crisis as an opportunity to switch career paths. I am set to be an ecologist; others, like my editor, are destined to be interplanetary doctors (presumably for a wealthy family of four living in the Mars version of the Hamptons.)
In this void created by federal inaction, the wealthy have chosen to help themselves. The demand for private jets was so high in April that operators were running out of planes. (It helped that Congress carved out multiple tax breaks for private jet companies, dropping both the federal excise tax and fuel tax.) For families looking to stay closer to home, many hauled their nannies to their summer homes, threatening to fire them if the at-risk workers refused to incubate themselves. Martha Stewart now lives full-time with her gardener, driver, and housekeeper—her “three detainees,” she called them—at her Westchester home. When some families went to hire replacement workers, they added stipulations including Covid-19 antibodies.
The sprawling systemic effects of this clear split in financial ability is not lost on everyone. Speaking with The Colorado Sun about the innately exclusive pod approach to education, Melissa Rich, a parent considering putting her child in one of these private settings for the school year, acknowledged, “This idea can replicate the white flight that we saw in the 1950s.” Katie Farnan, a Boulder parent committed to her childrens’ public school, laid out the ramifications more clearly: “I want my kid to come back to a school that has the funding needed for the community it serves,” she said. “And there’s a good chunk of community that will have never left that school but will come back to a school that may have fewer resources because families have divested.”
As my colleague Jo Livingstone wrote on the phenomenon of microschools, “The problem is everywhere, not just in one Bay Area backyard.” The question now is “What do we do with all this information?” We knew well before the pandemic how imbalanced and cruel America was for most workers because the wealthy wanted it that way. The calls for the private chef, the microschool teacher, and the contracted nurse are not individual affairs. They are another attempt to permanently distance the select few from the rest of society while they continue to siphon the nation’s wealth. You have to blow up the model this inevitably calcifies into. There will be no shortage of crises in our future—another pandemic or a climate emergency—and these private, parallel economies will only grow. Without the redistributive policies necessary to prevent it, our future will look more and more like the nation under pandemic: A society with an ocean-sized gulf between us and them, with one side slowly drowning and the other remarking that the water feels just fine.