Domestic workers are at risk during the coronavirus crisis: Data show most domestic workers are black, Hispanic, or Asian women
The coronavirus pandemic is placing the nation’s 2.2 million domestic workers—91.5% of whom are women—in a particularly precarious position. Steep declines in work are leading to a devastating loss of income while a lack of protective equipment for those who still work is a real threat to their health. This blog post provides details on who domestic workers are and where they live.
Domestic workers, whose worksites are private homes, have always faced unique challenges and have seen their work undervalued. In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, this already-vulnerable group is placed in a particularly precarious position. Many domestic workers are experiencing a steep decline in work. According to new data from the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), just over half (52%) of domestic workers surveyed said they had no job for the week beginning March 30—and that share increased to 68% by the next week. Domestic workers face long-term uncertainty, with 66% reporting that they are unsure if their clients will give them their jobs back after the pandemic. The decline in employment for domestic workers represents a significant loss of income for these workers and their families.
Domestic workers who are still on the front lines risk sacrificing their health for economic security. House cleaners—who help families follow the practices advocated by public health officials to help to prevent the spread of disease—and home care aides—who care for sick, disabled, and elderly people—may lack the protective equipment they need. Certain groups of domestic workers are excluded from basic labor protections, including those guaranteed under the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Family Medical Leave Act, which are particularly important sets of protections for workers in the midst of a pandemic.
Wisconsin’s election during this pandemic shows that limiting voting options is the new form of voter suppression
In an unprecedented ruling Monday night, the United States Supreme Court voted to allow Wisconsin’s primary election to occur as scheduled, even as nearly a dozen other states have postponed their primaries due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Today, as voting is happening, Wisconsin has almost 2,500 reported cases of the coronavirus and is under a “safer at home” order that Democratic Governor Tony Evers issued on March 25. It orders Wisconsin residents to stay at home unless engaged in an essential activity.
After a lengthy battle between the state’s Democratic governor, the Republican-controlled legislature, and the judiciary branch on whether or not to postpone the election and extend absentee ballot deadlines, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision left Wisconsin voters with a difficult choice: stay safely at home or risk getting sick and waiting in long lines to exercise their fundamental right to vote.
This choice was particularly cruel for voters in Wisconsin’s largest and most diverse city, Milwaukee. There, so few poll workers signed up to work that the city was able to open only five polling locations, instead of the usual 180. In a city of around 600,000 residents, opening only a handful of polling locations led to extremely long lines that wrapped around city blocks and forced people to wait for hours.
Unfortunately, Milwaukee is used to this type of voter suppression.
Since 2011, Wisconsin has had one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, requiring residents to have a current address on their identification. This disproportionately hurts voters in urban parts of the state, like Milwaukee County, which has one of the highest eviction rates in the state, making it harder for residents to keep a current address on their ID. In fact, research by the University of Wisconsin found that 17,000 Wisconsin voters were kept from the polls in 2016 because of the strict voter ID law.
A ‘phase four’ relief and recovery package should provide economic assistance to state and local governments, extended unemployment benefits, and better protections for workers and jobs
A “phase four” coronavirus recovery and relief package must be passed quickly and must be sufficient in scope and magnitude to address the severity of the economic and public health crisis we are experiencing. The package must include:
- More aid to state and local governments
- Extended unemployment insurance benefits
- Another direct cash payment to households
- Better protection for workers and jobs
- Full funding for coronavirus testing, treatment, and front-line worker personal protective equipment (PPE)
In the last two weeks, nearly 10 million people applied for unemployment insurance. The March jobs report revealed a loss of 701,000 jobs—the first monthly job loss in nearly 10 years and already one of the worst monthly losses on record. Further, March’s job loss numbers are just the tip of the iceberg, as they do not capture the entire month of March, but refer only to the payroll period containing March 12, before the shutdowns accelerated significantly.
How policymakers respond now will determine the level of pain working families experience and the speed at which the economy can get back on track after the shutdown period is over. The relief and recovery packages passed since the crisis began included many good measures, but they are still too little and some provisions in these packages represent policy missteps. More relief and recovery aid will certainly be needed.
The biggest misstep taken in the earlier relief and recovery packages was allocating so much of the aid to financial rescues of large firms with insufficient conditions to ensure that jobs and wages of workers were saved. Policymakers approved over $450 billion in direct fiscal aid to this effort, with more potentially forthcoming in subsidized loans from the Federal Reserve. Yet this aid (apart from the stronger stipulations for the airline industry) is largely not tied to preserving rank-and-file workers on payrolls.
Another large tranche of aid ($350 billion) was better targeted in preserving the payroll of small firms. But this aid will likely underperform in actually saving jobs because the administrative capacity of the Small Business Administration and banks servicing small and medium-sized firms are too poor to ensure the full amount of aid reaches employers and preserves payroll.
These two tranches of aid could have been bundled and made into more direct and better administered financial relief that hinged entirely on the willingness of employers to preserve workers on payroll with the federal government financing their pay during the shutdown. This would have allowed workers to remain in the jobs they held before the coronavirus shock, and this would have helped ensure a rapid economic recovery once the public health crisis had subsided.
Even with already-passed relief and recovery measures, job losses from the coronavirus shock could easily exceed 20 million
This blog post is based on a particular GDP forecast from 3/31. If new and substantially different forecasts are released, we will update these numbers.
The effect of the novel coronavirus and the public health measures enacted to slow its spread—particularly “social distancing”—have been profound for economic activity in the United States. We have already seen some of the leading edge of this effect in recent data releases. This post highlights some recent forecasts of the effects of the coronavirus shock on measures of economic activity, and what these contractions in economic activity mean for jobs. Its key findings are:
- Forecasts of the size of the drag on growth imposed by the coronavirus (and associated public health measures) have risen rapidly in recent weeks.
- Currently, forecasts indicate that gross domestic product (GDP) will be roughly 12.8% smaller by the end of June 2020 due to coronavirus effects—an extraordinarily fast economic collapse.
- To return to pre-shock economic health by the middle of 2021, at least $1.4 trillion in additional recovery spending would be needed—with $2 trillion being a more prudent target.
- A contraction this rapid would be consistent with job loss of roughly 19.8 million by the end of June 2020.
- This estimate of 19.8 million jobs lost could be too high or too low, for a number of reasons. For example, employers could reduce hours instead of laying off workers, and policies to keep workers on the payroll may be effective, keeping job losses down. Or coronavirus effects may be concentrated in relatively labor-intensive industries, so employment might actually fall faster than GDP. A plausible range is between 18 and 28 million jobs lost.
On March 15, Goldman Sachs forecast that GDP would contract at a 5% annualized rate in the second quarter of 2020. On March 20, their forecast jumped to 24% annualized contraction. And on March 31, their forecast for second quarter contraction grew to 34%. This pattern of rapid deterioration in projected coronavirus-related contraction has been true across literally every other forecaster. The logic of these forecasts of rapid and historically large collapses in GDP is easy to see. Even a 5% across-the-board contraction in consumer spending over a short period of time (say because a housing price bubble popped) can send the economy into a steep recession. But the coronavirus is causing well over half of all economic activity in some major sectors to stop dead. For example, accommodations and food service by itself accounts for 14% of all consumer spending. If economic activity in just this sector is cut in half, this alone can drive a steep recession. But, of course, other sectors are also affected and contraction in some sectors will be well over 50%.Read more
This week, President Trump announced he’s essentially putting an order for critically needed surgical gowns on layaway at Walmart despite urgent demand.
At a coronavirus task force briefing on Wednesday, Trump said he was placing a “very, very, big” order for gowns with Walmart CEO Doug McMillon. But it turns out that the gowns—which are part of vital personal protective equipment known as PPE—aren’t actually available right now.
A Walmart spokesperson said the company would have to “delve into its sprawling global supply chain to identify a company to make an undisclosed number of gowns.”
Why is the president placing orders through retailers—if they can’t quickly fill such needed requisitions?
The answer is that Trump is touting corporate partnerships in a display that’s more showmanship than substance. And at the same time, he’s refusing to fully invoke a longstanding law, the Defense Production Act (DPA), that could help close serious PPE shortfalls.
If Trump invoked the DPA, key agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) would start issuing federal contracts for all available supplies of PPE, ventilators, and other needed equipment. And they could distribute those supplies to the areas of greatest need.
However, Trump appears to not trust DOD or FEMA to manage production of critically needed medical supplies and equipment. Instead, he’s doling out contracts one at a time—and apparently picking fights with favorite villains, like General Motors CEO Mary Barra. Read more
The South’s worst unemployment numbers may be yet to come given social distancing delays in the region
The first set of data on unemployment insurance claims amid the coronavirus pandemic were unprecedented, but the hardest-hit areas were not generally states in the South. A second week of data shows a portrait of a disaster, with 6.6 million people filing for unemployment insurance (UI) in the week ending March 28. Every single state has now reported a record number of claims during one of those two weeks.
Some Southern states were particularly hard hit, with North Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana all ranking among the five states with the largest two-week percent increase in UI claims. But since the most recent data is from the week ending March 28, the greatest spike in the South’s unemployment may be yet to come. That’s because there is strong evidence that much of the South (and broad swaths of the West) was not engaging in widespread social distancing by that week.
Many Southern policymakers were slow to accept that stopping the pandemic required social distancing, closing schools and nonessential businesses, and limiting public gatherings. Stay-at-home orders have only begun to ramp up in Southern states in recent days, and some Southern states still don’t have them. For many businesses, layoffs and closures will take place only as these necessary public health measures are implemented and the general public follows suit. Some of the Southern states that saw the largest increases in unemployment claims for the week ending March 28 were those that instituted stay-at-home orders earlier than others, like Kentucky and Louisiana. This suggests that the largest unemployment claims in many Southern states have yet to materialize.
Attorneys general (AGs) in some states are:
- Protecting nonessential workers from the risks of contracting COVID-19 by enforcing or leading implementation of stay-at-home orders.
- Ensuring that workers who are misclassified as independent contractors can access the unemployment insurance and paid leave they are entitled to.
- Protecting employees from losing unpaid wages.
- Protecting workers seeking safe working conditions.
- Providing clear and accessible public information about workers’ rights and legal protections.
Much of the coverage of state attorneys general work during the coronavirus crisis has focused on consumer protection, but many state AGs—even those without dedicated workers’ rights units—are helping protect workers facing unprecedented challenges.
These efforts come in the midst of a general increase over the past several years in state attorney general activity to enforce labor laws and advocate for workers.
Five years ago, only three state AG offices had dedicated workers’ rights units: California, Massachusetts, and New York. Since then, six other AGs have created workers’ rights units: the AGs of the District of Columbia, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania). Other state AG offices, even without dedicated bureaus or divisions, have also become more involved in worker issues in recent years. With or without dedicated worker rights units, state AGs have a range of powers that enable them to advance workplace protections.
Workers’ needs during the coronavirus crisis are urgent and stark. Some workers who are not essential are being required to work despite state or local stay-at-home orders. Other workers who are unquestionably essential are working without adequate protection.
A record number of workers have lost their jobs; among them are workers who have been misclassified as independent contractors and will struggle to get unemployment insurance they’re entitled to. And workers may require enforcement in order to access any legally required paid sick or family leave. On top of these challenges, there is a serious dearth of readily accessible public information about workers’ rights and legal protections, particularly in light of the rapidly changing legal landscape.
Higher rates of poverty and incarceration put front-line workers and communities in Southern states at greater risk from the coronavirus
This piece is the second in a three-part series examining the economic and social conditions that impact health outcomes in Southern states, and how these conditions leave communities underprepared to protect front-line workers and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Poverty rates tend to be higher in Southern states. State policymakers should increase aid to social services and increase benefit amounts for direct income support programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).
- Incarceration rates are highest in the South, and people who are incarcerated face greater health risks from the coronavirus. Many options are available to state and local policymakers to protect the health and safety of people who are incarcerated, including offering necessary medical care and supplies at no cost and prioritizing people for release.
- Several states in the South have some of the lowest unemployment insurance recipiency rates in the country. State policymakers must do more to bolster and expand access to an already strained unemployment insurance system.
In our earlier post, we described how Southern state lawmakers’ refusal to expand Medicaid, implement paid sick leave policies, allocate sufficient public health resources, and quickly adopt social distancing practices put the health of many workers and families at risk from COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic is also causing an extraordinary economic crisis that is projected to disproportionately harm Southern states because retail, leisure, and hospitality make up higher-than-average shares of total private-sector employment in almost all Southern states. That’s a key reason why average wages in the South are lower than the rest of the country, and this economic crisis will hit low-wage workers first and hardest.
There are many actions state and local policymakers can take to mitigate economic harm and target responses effectively to provide relief to impacted communities. This includes strengthening unemployment insurance, increasing basic needs assistance, and addressing racial, gender, and additional equity concerns.
Every state in the country reported its highest initial unemployment claims ever either last week or the week before
This morning, the U.S. Department of Labor released the latest initial unemployment insurance claims data, showing another unprecedented spike. Nearly 10 million people across the country filed for unemployment insurance (UI) in the past two weeks: 3.3 million filed for unemployment in the week ending March 21, and another 6.6 million filed in the week ending March 28. For comparison, 282,000 claims were filed during the week ending March 14 when we were just starting to see the economic effects of the coronavirus. This greatly outnumbers the number of claims filed during any week since this data has been collected, including during the Great Recession.
The map in Figure A shows each state’s percentage change in “advance” initial unemployment claims for the week ending March 28 relative to the week ending March 14. Initial claims for the past week were unprecedented in virtually every state. The largest percentage increase occurred in Michigan, where the 311,000 new initial claims equaled a 5,728% increase over the number of initial claims filed in the week ending March 14. The smallest percentage increase was in Wyoming, where 4,675 new claims were filed—an 804% increase over the number of claims filed the week ending March 14, and still the largest number of claims ever filed in Wyoming. In fact, every state in the country reported its highest initial claims ever either last week or the week before.
That’s it. The Trump appointees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) need to be removed for neglect of duty and malfeasance—now.
The latest outrage? Yesterday, the Trump board added to its long and growing list of anti-worker, anti-union actions, issuing new rules that undermine the longstanding practice of voluntary recognition, by which employers agree to recognize and bargain with a union when a majority of employees sign cards saying they want a union. The Trump board is now requiring these employers to post a notice telling workers they can file a petition and have an election to get rid of the union—the very same union that a majority of workers have just chosen. And the new rules call for running union elections and counting ballots even when charges have been filed alleging that an employer has engaged in illegal unfair labor practices that have tainted the election. In an Orwellian twist, the Trump board calls these new rules, which undermine workers’ ability to form and keep their unions, rules to “Protect Employee Free Choice.”
What makes this latest action so egregious and outrageous is that it is happening at the very same time that the Trump board had unilaterally halted all elections by workers seeking to form unions. Thousands of workers who were poised to vote on forming unions have had their elections cancelled—even though the elections could be held by U.S. mail, whose employees are courageously keeping the Postal Service going. Instead, workers are left without a voice, and the Trump NLRB has done nothing to discourage or prohibit employers from running anti-union campaigns while workers are left in the lurch.Read more
These estimates were updated on May 14, 2020. See the updated estimates.
We estimate that 3.5 million workers were at high risk of losing their employer-provided health insurance in the past two weeks. Because the United States is unique among rich countries in tying health insurance benefits to employment—roughly half of all U.S. workers receive health insurance through their own employer’s provided coverage—many of the newly unemployed will suddenly face prohibitively costly insurance options. The linkage between specific jobs and the availability of health insurance is a prime source of inefficiency and inequity in the U.S. health system. It is especially terrifying for workers to lose their health insurance as a result of, and during, an ongoing pandemic.
Last week and this week saw a historically large number of workers filing initial claims for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits due to layoffs (or furloughs or hours reductions) connected to the economic impact of the coronavirus and associated “social distancing” measures. The 8.7 million (non-seasonally-adjusted) new claims over the past two weeks are about 5.9% of total employment over the last year, 2.5 times as large as any previous two-week period on record.
This scale of job loss will obviously cause huge distress for the affected workers and their families. One aspect of this distress will be the likely loss of employer-provided health insurance (EPHI). Most nonelderly people in the United States who have health insurance get it through their own employer or through the employer-sponsored plan that was available to somebody in their family. When jobs are lost, this primary source of health insurance coverage is also lost.
Using new UI claims by industry from the state of Washington—the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States—we are able to provide a very rough estimate of the number of workers at high risk of losing health insurance they had through their own employer due to coronavirus-related layoffs (or furloughs or hours reductions). We can’t say exactly how many people will lose insurance coverage altogether for several reasons. For example, some workers who lose EPHI due to layoffs or hours reductions that trigger UI claims may be able to obtain coverage through health care exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or through Medicaid. Some of this group may also be able to obtain continuing coverage through COBRA, paying out of pocket the full cost of their EPHI coverage. Some workers may be able to obtain coverage through other family members, or if only experiencing a temporary furlough or hours reduction, their employers might continue to pay for coverage. On the other hand, our calculations might understate the loss of health insurance coverage because they do not account for family members who are no longer covered because of the policyholder’s layoff. And because not all layoffs result in UI claims, we will underestimate the actual magnitude of job losses.Read more
Policymakers twice missed the chance to avert widespread job loss, now they should act to avoid more layoffs
The economic impact of the coronavirus is well upon us. Though not yet officially declared, we are certainly now in a recession. Nearly 10 million people applied for unemployment insurance claims in the last two weeks alone, and we will see much worse in coming weeks. I have been a labor market economist for a long time—including through the Great Recession—and I have never seen anything like this.
Congress just passed a bill that, while problematic in important respects, will reduce the hardship for millions of people who are out of work because of the virus. The most effective parts of the bill are a $600 increase in weekly unemployment insurance checks and the creation of a special disaster relief program that expands unemployment insurance coverage to many of those who fall through the gaping holes in our current system, including gig workers and the self-employed.
But it is important to remember that mass unemployment as a result of the coronavirus did not have to happen—in fact, policymakers twice missed the chance to avert widespread job loss. First, the failure to take the coronavirus seriously early on and to implement rapid and accurate testing means we cannot now distinguish between those who are sick and need to be quarantined, and those who are healthy and could largely continue normal activity. This in turn means that to avert a much greater disaster, we have no choice but to enforce widespread lockdowns rather than more targeted quarantines. In other words, the lack of early response turned a public health threat into an economic recession, which will continue at least as long as our testing and tracing capability is insufficient.
Moreover, even after we failed to test for the virus on a sufficient scale and control its spread, we still could have protected jobs. Other countries have chosen to compensate coronavirus-impacted employers for close to the entire amount of their workers’ salaries, as long as they keep their workers on payroll. Making it possible for businesses to keep workers on payroll is crucial because at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, the threat of the virus will be over, and the economy will be able to restart. People who have been on lockdown will be very excited to go out to restaurants and do other things they have missed out on (count me among them!). But that sudden surge in demand could go one of two ways. If employers still have their workers on payroll, they will be able to turn the lights back on and deal with the rush of customers. But if they had to lay off workers, they will need to spend great deal of resources posting jobs, interviewing, hiring, onboarding, and training. This scramble to re-match workers with jobs will prolong the pain of the recession much longer than necessary.Read more
Nearly 20 million workers will likely be laid off or furloughed by July: Updated state numbers project further job losses due to the coronavirus
As the United States comes to terms with the scale of the coronavirus pandemic, new economic projections continue to deteriorate, indicating an increasingly devastating impact on the U.S. economy. The latest Goldman Sachs forecast predicts a 9% contraction for the first quarter of this year and a 34% contraction in the second quarter. This large drop in GDP is consistent with 19.8 million jobs lost by July, bringing unemployment rates across the country into the mid-teens.
Our estimate is much larger than was predicted even a week ago, when the forecasting implied 14 million would be furloughed or laid off. Each escalating forecast is an indication that policymakers at every level of government need to be acting immediately to curb the spread of the virus and protect the health and economic well-being of their communities.
Importantly, these latest estimates account for the recently enacted CARES Act and assume a fourth coronavirus-related federal relief bill that will ramp up state aid—a particularly effective form of stimulus. In other words, Congress must pass additional stimulus measures—especially aid to state and local governments—just to keep the losses where we are predicting them to be today. Policymakers could go one step further and use public debt to finance the wages of workers who would otherwise lose their jobs, as Britain and Denmark are doing. This would allow workers to keep their jobs, even if they are unable to work from home or their employer is closed. It would also allow some workers to save money that they could spend once the pandemic has subsided, which would help jump-start the recovery.
In the map and tables below, we have updated our estimates of predicted layoffs and furloughs by state and added a projection of the resulting unemployment rates in each state. The map in Figure A shows that California is expected to have the largest number of jobs lost, with the state losing nearly 2.3 million jobs through June. Texas, Florida, and New York have the next largest job loss numbers at 1.7 million, 1.3 million, and 1.2 million jobs lost, respectively—losses representing between 14.7 and 17.0% of total private-sector employment in these states.
Which data to watch and not watch this week: Watch Thursday’s unemployment insurance claims, not Friday’s jobs day numbers
It’s not often that you’ll hear us telling you not to pay attention to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s monthly employment situation report that is released on the first Friday of every month. We usually elevate these “jobs day” numbers because they are the timeliest data on payroll employment, the unemployment rate, the share of the population with a job, and wage growth. But this week, the numbers coming out on Friday will be genuinely outdated, if we want a true look at how the coronavirus has affected the economy. Therefore, this week we recommend you focus on the unemployment insurance (UI) claims data that will be released on Thursday morning, which will provide a much more up-to-date read on the state of the labor market.
Why? It’s all about the different reference periods for these two data releases. The reference period for Thursday’s initial UI numbers is last week (March 22–28). That means these numbers capture key information about layoffs in almost real time. The reference period for Friday’s jobs day report, on the other hand, is mid-month—specifically, it’s the payroll period that includes March 12 for the establishment survey and the calendar week that includes March 12 for the household survey. Even though mid-March was just a couple weeks ago, things deteriorated so fast in the last half of March that a mid-month measure will not come close to capturing the current state of the labor market.
The Friday jobs numbers will likely, however, reflect the leading edge of the downturn. We already know from the unemployment insurance claims data that there was a significant uptick in initial unemployment insurance claims for the week ending March 14, which includes the relevant reference period for this Friday’s report. UI claims rose from 211,000 in the week ending March 7 to 282,000 in the week ending March 14. However, initial claims skyrocketed in the week ending March 21 to 3.3 million, by far the highest level in the history of the series, and is expected to have risen even higher last week. Friday’s jobs report will decidedly not include this huge increase in job losses in the last half of the month. Therefore, the measures reported on Friday will be nothing more than the tip of the iceberg for the pandemic-induced recession we are in now. Thursday’s UI data from March 22–28, on the other hand, will provide a much clearer read on what workers are up against.Read more
We have never seen such immediate and sweeping changes at so many workplaces in modern history. What are unions doing to ensure that workers have a seat at the table?
EPI reports and blog posts have documented the ways that workers through their unions solve problems and make changes that improve their lives and their communities. This includes ensuring broader access to paid sick leave and health insurance, two issues of particular importance in the current pandemic. This blog post, culled from public news sources, summarizes just a few ways unionized workers are using their bargaining rights to have a say in how they are going to safely and effectively do their jobs during the pandemic. We encourage readers to share their stories to add to these examples.
- Teamsters have negotiated an agreement with UPS providing paid leave, and are pressing UPS for extra protections. The Teamsters’ UPS and UPS Freight National Negotiating Committees and UPS reached an agreement that provides for paid leave for any worker who is diagnosed with COVID-19 or quarantined because a family member in their household is ill with the virus. According to Transport Topics, “the paid-leave agreement applies to about 300,000 full- and part-time hourly employees, primarily drivers, package handlers and mechanics, if they should become directly impacted by the novel coronavirus.” The leave pay includes pension contributions. Workers who use paid time off to self-quarantine and are later diagnosed with COVID-19 can get that time back in their leave bank.
UPS is also implementing other protective measures, such as altering delivery requirements to minimize direct contact with customers, specifically by not requiring signatures from customers. Efforts to keep workers safe are ongoing. For example, the president of a local Teamsters chapter in Boston is insisting that UPS step up its cleaning of trucks and equipment These protections are especially important, as UPS union members will reportedly be delivering and picking up test kits and supplies for COVID-19 drive-through testing sites.
- Teamsters have secured job security commitments from Waste Management. The Teamsters Waste and Recycling Division represents more than 32,000 workers in the private sanitation industry. The division sent a letter to the three largest companies in the industry—Waste Management, Republic Services, and Waste Connections—asking the companies to outline what they are doing to ensure the safety and health of sanitation workers and requesting specific changes to attendance and paid-time-off policies. Subsequent communications with Waste Management have secured proposals for job security, guaranteed pay, and excused absences for workers.
- The United Auto Workers (UAW) is negotiating plant operations with Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler, including plans to make face shields and ventilators. The UAW represent about 150,000 auto workers at General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler. In mid-March, UAW officials urged the companies to shut down their factories for two weeks to protect autoworkers from the spreading coronavirus. The request followed union members’ concerns that continued work at the plants would expose them to the virus (a worker at a Fiat Chrysler transmission plant in Kokomo, Indiana, tested positive for COVID-19) and was made the day before UAW members at a Fiat Chrysler factory in Warren, Michigan, went on strike to protest the unsafe working conditions caused by working in close quarters. Initially the companies agreed only to creating a joint task force with the union to implement protection measures for workers and cutting shifts so that factories would be cleared of workers on a rotating basis for deep cleaning of the facility and equipment. But shortly after that agreement was announced, the automakers announced plans to halt production at plants across North America.The UAW and the automakers also said they would work together on plans to restart the plants when it is safe to do so, according to a statement from Ford.
Meanwhile, Ford and the UAW announced that they will start assembling plastic face shields —clear plastic shields that can be used to protect health care workers and others who deal with the public from virus-containing droplets—at a Ford manufacturing site, and start making ventilators at another Ford plant. As Reuters reports, Ford officials say the safety procedures followed to keep workers safe as they produce the ventilators “will be adapted from work Ford and the UAW have been doing to prepare for the automaker to reopen other U.S. factories.” These efforts are part of a recently announced entree by the automakers into production of ventilators, face masks, and face shields for health care workers and first responders.
- Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) have won paid leave for Verizon workers. According to Labor Notes, “the unions representing 34,000 workers at Verizon have negotiated paid leave for union members who can’t work during the COVID-19 outbreak.” Telephone workers, like many health care workers and grocery workers, are considered essential workers and thus must stay on the job. The agreement between the unions and Verizon specifies that workers will get paid leave if they are diagnosed with COVID-19, are directed by a doctor to stay at home due to underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable, have to care for a child whose school or day care has been closed due to the pandemic, or have to care for a person in their family who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Labor Notes quoted a statement from Teamsters for a Democratic Union: “The paid leave won by the union at Verizon surpasses anything even raised by our International Union for Teamsters working in parcel, trucking, grocery, food, beverage, waste, and other essential frontline services that put workers at risk.”
- Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) has secured masks for health care workers. SEIU UHW represents more than 97,000 front-line health care workers in hospitals, clinics, and other facilities in California as well as patients and health care consumers. After hearing from members about the lack of protective equipment, the union found a supplier and secured 39 million of the N95 masks, according to the Bay area NBC affiliate. The masks will be distributed to state and local governments and health care systems. Union officials also said they found suppliers of protective masks and face shields.
A broader seat at the table for all workers
Not only are unions helping workers at individual workplaces, they are also seeking a broader seat at the table for all workers.
For example, the International Trade Union Confederation, which represents 200 million members of 332 affiliates in 163 countries and territories, joined with the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to send a letter to G20 leaders. They called for coordinated action through International Labor Organization, World Health Organization, OECD, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank to “protect the health of all people and the incomes and jobs of all working people as the key to stability of business and the real economy.”
The letters calls for urgent investment in public health and measures to support all workers regardless of their employment status, including those in the informal economy, including paid sick leave from day one; wage/income protection; managed reduction of hours where necessary, with government support to maximize income security; mortgage, rent and loan relief; universal social protection and free access to health care; and, child care support for front-line workers working in health care, supermarkets, pharmacies and other vital areas.
Keep the vital stories coming
Stories keep coming in of ways union workers are demanding protections and winning health and safety protections. In her recent blog post on the very ill-timed and harmful rulemakings affecting union organizing, my colleague Celine McNicholas notes how “grocery unions have won personal protective equipment, paid sick time, and hazard pay for their members.” That is the kind of seat at the table that is so crucial—at all times, but especially now.
Please keep these important stories coming. If you have examples of unions winning critical provisions to help their members stay safe and navigate workplace changes during this crisis, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nine in 10 farmworkers could be covered by the paid leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act—but not if smaller employers are exempted
- Starting on April 1, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) will require employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide paid sick days and paid family and medical leave for workers if they have been impacted by the coronavirus, but the law includes a possible exemption for smaller employers with fewer than 50 employees.
- The U.S. Department of Labor is currently developing regulations to implement the FFCRA and they are expected sometime in early April. The agency is likely to include guidelines regarding the small business exemption for paid leave, which will have an impact on how many farmworkers are eligible.
- Data show that nearly all farms in the United States have fewer than 500 employees (99.8%); nine out of every 10 farmworkers (88.3%) are employed on those farms and would be covered by the FFCRA’s new paid leave provisions.
- However, most farms are smaller and employ fewer than 50 employees (96.6% of all farms). If all farms with fewer than 50 employees are exempted under the small business exemption in the FFCRA, just over one-third of farmworkers (36.2%) would be eligible for paid leave—those employed by farms with 50–499 employees.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), the second of the three coronavirus stimulus packages passed by Congress in response to the ongoing pandemic, was enacted on March 18, 2020. During the period beginning on April 1 and ending on December 31, 2020, the FFCRA will require employers with fewer than 500 employees—but with a possible exemption for smaller businesses with fewer than 50 employees—to provide paid sick days and paid family and medical leave for workers if they have been impacted by the coronavirus.
The farmworkers who grow, pick, and pack the food that ends up on our grocery store shelves have been deemed essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic, but are vulnerable and need additional health and safety measures in place to protect them from being infected by, and spreading, the coronavirus. One major agribusiness lobby has publicly stated that farm employers “would be losing way too much money” if basic safety measures were implemented, while some major producers report they’re putting new safety measures in place. The current reality for farmworkers is that most lack paid sick days and paid family and medical leave—but if they qualify, the FFCRA could offer them a lifeline.
There are no reliable estimates of how many farmworkers may be eligible for the FFCRA’s emergency paid leave benefits, but our review of the available data sources suggests that almost all farmworkers could be eligible. However, if all smaller farm employers were to be exempted, just over one-third of farmworkers would be eligible.Read more
Today, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a rule making it harder for workers to win and keep a union. At the same time, the Trump NLRB has suspended all union elections, including mail ballot elections. The decision to finalize this rulemaking at a time when the agency is failing to fulfill its most basic statutory obligation—to enable workers to organize—is a disgrace. Congress must hold the agency accountable for this decision.
This is a moment when more and more workers are voicing concerns over the terms and conditions of their work as the entire country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers are being forced to work without adequate protective gear or sick leave if they or their family members get sick. As a result, workers at places like Amazon, Instacart, and Whole Foods are walking off the job to demand stronger protections, and many are seeking to form unions.
Unions play a critical role in winning workers health and safety protections, as well as fair wages and benefits. In fact, unions have a long history of developing training related to infectious disease and providing workplace protections, in many cases through strong safety and health committees set up to assist when issues like the coronavirus crisis emerge. Notably, a nurses’ union recently located 39 million N95 masks, after their employer failed to provide them, and grocery unions have won personal protective equipment, paid sick time, and hazard pay for their members. Further, unions promote worker safety by investing in programs to educate workers about on-the-job hazards and working with employers to reduce worker injuries and the time lost due to injury.
At a time when many workers deemed “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic are navigating issues of health and safety, and looking for ways to have their voices heard, it is unconscionable that the agency responsible for ensuring workers have the right to a voice in the workplace has denied them the ability to exercise these rights. By suspending all union elections, the Trump board is betraying its responsibility to our nation’s workers when they most need these basic rights. But today’s rulemaking makes clear that the agency will find a way to conduct the business it deems important—namely, making it more difficult for workers to unionize.Read more
- Nearly three-fourths of workers age 65 and older—or over 5 million older workers—are unable to telecommute. That means that these workers, who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 because of their age, could be putting themselves at risk to earn a paycheck.
- Policymakers can mitigate the damage from workplace exposure to the coronavirus afflicting older and other highly vulnerable people by designing unemployment insurance and paid sick days measures to protect workers who are vulnerable themselves or who have vulnerable family members.
- Specifically, policymakers should extend paid sick leave to all employers, to at-risk workers, and to workers whose family members are at risk. They should also ensure that older workers who have to quit their job or lose pay due to the risks of COVID-19 are among the newly eligible for unemployment insurance under the new $2.2 trillion coronavirus package.
As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the United States, more and more workers who are on the front lines of the economy are at risk, but little attention has been paid to the impact on older workers, who are among the most vulnerable.
Because testing is far from universal, official reports are likely to understate the extent of the pandemic, but it’s clear that older adults are at higher risk for severe illness. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that eight out of 10 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. have been adults ages 65 years old and older, and significant shares of older Americans require hospitalization and admission to intensive care units.
At the same time, over 5 million workers age 65 years old and older in the pre-pandemic economy could not work from home. Although some of these workers are likely to be the ones who have been laid off or furloughed in recent days, many will remain out in the workforce, going to work, risking their own health and the health of their family members. And many more workers—younger than age 65—will continue going to work and potentially risking the health of their family members who are older and/or have other health conditions that make them more vulnerable.
Exposed and underpaid: Women still make less than men, including in sectors especially affected by the coronavirus
- Women are paid 22.6% less than men with similar education and experience.
- Women doctors are paid 12% less than doctors who are men.
- Women nurses are paid 8% less than nurses who are men.
- Women who wait tables in restaurants are paid 12% less than male wait staff.
- Women desk clerks at hotels and resorts are paid 11% less than male desk clerks.
Equal Pay Day arrives in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and in occupations radically transformed as we deal with the crisis, women still make less than men.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one-third of working women (33.4%), compared with just 15.7% of working men, are employed in two industries that have been significantly impacted by COVID-19 in very different ways: the health care and social assistance industry, which is experiencing surging demand, and the leisure and hospitality industry, which is being crushed by closures. Women employed in both industries experience a gender wage gap.
Given this harsh reality, Equal Pay Day on March 31 is a day to call attention to the significant pay gap between men and women in our country. On average in 2019, women were paid 22.6% less than men, after controlling for race and ethnicity, education, age, and geographic division. The gaps for black and Hispanic women relative to white men are larger than the overall gap and the white men–white women gap. Compared with white men, black and Hispanic women are paid 33.7% and 33.0% less, respectively, after controlling for age, education, and geographic division. For white women, the gap is 25.7%.
The timing of these events also coincides with March, Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the often overlooked contributions women have made to the United States. At this historic moment, both the essential contributions as well as the economic vulnerabilities of working women have taken center stage.
EPI President Thea Lee tells MSNBC’s Velshi the coronavirus shines a light on economic inequality in the United States
“This crisis has laid bare the underlying inequality in the U.S. economy,” said EPI President Thea Lee Friday on MSNBC’s The Last Word hosted by Ali Velshi. Because of these inequities, she added, “we were ill-prepared for this crisis.”
Now, she stressed, we need universal paid sick leave, a health care system that doesn’t bankrupt people, and a stronger unemployment insurance system to “make sure we aren’t as ill-prepared for the next crisis.”
The “social distancing” measures needed to slow the spread of the coronavirus clearly reduce economic activity. A growing meme in recent days argues that this reduction might be so damaging that it would be a societal benefit to end the social distancing measures shortly and try to return to normal economic activity.
This is extraordinarily risky from a public health perspective—the potential deaths caused by a premature end to social distancing measures—without exaggeration—could reach the millions.
Further, a scenario that saw this many deaths would also see tens of millions of workers falling so ill they would be unable to work for extended periods. This would cause an economic shock of its own.
Finally, and most fundamentally, this view that terrible (but generally unspecified) economic damage will inevitably occur due to the recent public health measures undertaken represents a profound misunderstanding of how the economy works, and how smart policy measures can neutralize this type of trade-off.
To see why, consider a quick thought experiment.Read more
The CARES Act’s aid to state and local governments isn’t enough to shield vital public services from the coronavirus shock: Lessons from the Great Recession tell us why
The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act is an important step in the right direction toward providing economic relief during the coronavirus pandemic, but it contains some serious flaws, including inadequate aid to state and local governments. The aid is both too stingy and too restrictive, providing insufficient relief to hold state and local budgets harmless against the effects of the crisis and forcing them to jump through bureaucratic hoops even to get this insufficient amount. The lessons of the Great Recession tell us that this aid shortfall could carry serious economic ramifications. Unlike the federal government, state and local governments must largely balance their budgets. This means that when revenues fall off a cliff because of lower incomes and spending during this economic crisis, state and local governments will face serious fiscal constraints, often leading to budget cuts that further depress demand in the economy. During the Great Recession, such budget cuts severely hampered the economic recovery. The economic recovery also taught us what works: additional federal Medicaid matching funds. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009’s enhanced federal Medicaid matching funds helped to alleviate the budget constraints that state and local governments faced. Research has since shown that these increased federal funds stood out as providing some of the greatest bang for the buck as economic stimulus.Read more
The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act is an important step in the right direction toward providing economic relief during the coronavirus pandemic, but it contains some serious flaws, including inadequate aid to state and local governments.
The aid is both too stingy and too restrictive, providing insufficient relief to hold state and local budgets harmless against the effects of the crisis and forcing them to jump through bureaucratic hoops even to get this insufficient amount.
The lessons of the Great Recession tell us that this aid shortfall could carry serious economic ramifications.
Unlike the federal government, state and local governments must largely balance their budgets. This means that when revenues fall off a cliff because of lower incomes and spending during this economic crisis, state and local governments will face serious fiscal constraints, often leading to budget cuts that further depress demand in the economy. During the Great Recession, such budget cuts severely hampered the economic recovery.
The economic recovery also taught us what works: additional federal Medicaid matching funds. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009’s enhanced federal Medicaid matching funds helped to alleviate the budget constraints that state and local governments faced. Research has since shown that these increased federal funds stood out as providing some of the greatest bang for the buck as economic stimulus.Read more
Early state unemployment insurance data foreshadow the massive shock the coronavirus is having on state labor markets: The real surge will be seen in next week’s data
The data released yesterday by the Department of Labor showed there was a breathtaking increase in the number of people filing for unemployment insurance (UI) during the week ending in March 21, 2020. Initial UI claims skyrocketed to 3.3 million last week—a nearly 1,500% increase over three weeks ago, when 211,000 initial claims were filed.
The comparable state-level data on UI claims is released one week later than the national data, so the most recent information available at the state-level is for two weeks ago—the week ending March 14. While this does not capture the staggering spike in claims that we saw last week, the early effects of coronavirus are already apparent in many states. Figure A displays the percent change in unemployment insurance claims from the prior week.
UI is a critical tool for ensuring that those who are out of work or have seen their hours reduced are still able to make ends meet. The CARES Act, which Congress is currently debating, would adapt UI to meet the needs of the current crisis by expanding who is eligible (gig workers and the self-employed are usually excluded), giving an additional $600 in weekly benefits, and reducing burdensome waiting period, job search, and earnings requirements. Still, UI is just one of many policy levers that should be used to support workers throughout this crisis. Policymakers in every state should work to ensure that they are protecting public health while reducing economic harm to workers.Read more
Without fast action from Congress, low-wage workers will be ineligible for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus crisis
- Without immediate action from Congress, large numbers of low-wage workers won’t be eligible to get unemployment checks.
- Many workers don’t make enough money to qualify for unemployment because they work low hours or are in low-paying jobs (e.g., fast-food workers or retail clerks).
- Federal and state legislators can act to protect these most vulnerable workers.
- The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act—which has passed the Senate by unanimous consent and is moving to the House today—is a good first step to fill the hole low-wage workers fall into during this crisis.
- The CARES Act expands eligibility to workers who typically have been unable to get unemployment benefits, such as those who are self-employed, are seeking part-time work, or do not have sufficient work history to qualify for unemployment insurance.
About 3 million workers filed unemployment claims last week, and 14 million workers are expected to be out of work by June. Large numbers of those who lose their jobs will be low-wage workers, and unfortunately many will be ineligible for unemployment compensation under current overly restrictive eligibility rules.
Federal and state legislators, however, have the power to act and come to the aid of these vulnerable workers. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act—which has passed the Senate by unanimous consent and is moving to the House today—has notable limitations, but would greatly expand eligibility for unemployment insurance.
The expansion is necessary and important because unemployment benefits are generally limited to those who had high enough earnings when they were working. But low-wage workers experience higher rates of joblessness, lowering their baseline earnings and making them less eligible to collect UI benefits.
Figure A shows that unemployment rates are substantially higher for low-wage workers, defined as those workers who earn less than their state’s 30th percentile wage.
During the Great Recession, nearly one out of five workers who had earned low wages also experienced some unemployment. In contrast, unemployment rates were only about half as high for the rest of the workforce who earned more than their state’s 30th percentile wage. Given the toll on the service industry during the current pandemic, we should expect unemployment to skyrocket for low-wage workers.Read more
The coronavirus outbreak has caused 10 U.S. states and territories to postpone their 2020 primary elections in order to reduce the spread of the virus by protecting voters and poll workers—a majority of whom are age 61 and older and face the greatest risk from the virus. These postponements demonstrate the urgent need for safe, alternative voting methods to safeguard democracy amid a pandemic, especially before November’s general election.
One promising method is a vote-by-mail system. Five states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah—already conduct their elections through mail. Several voting rights groups have expressed support for a vote-by-mail system for the remaining primaries and the general election. And the U.S. House of Representative’s latest coronavirus response bill proposes a national requirement of 15 days of early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and mailing ballots to all registered voters during an emergency.
We should also consider a radical change to our voting options: online voting. While online voting may seem farfetched, it has already been successfully implemented in some U.S. elections. For example, earlier this year, the Greater Seattle area held the first election in U.S. history where all voters could cast a ballot by smartphone, while West Virginia has allowed voters living overseas to vote using a mobile app. Given that 81% of Americans own smartphones, studies show that online voting could dramatically increase voter turnout. Imagine the kinds of policies lawmakers could enact, that would represent the views of all Americans, if we had higher voter turnout due to more voting options. Think about how many primaries could continue as scheduled this year if Americans were given all options to vote.
Despite some good provisions, the CARES Act has glaring flaws and falls short of fully protecting workers during the coronavirus crisis
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act is an important step in the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic. It includes provisions for expanded unemployment insurance ($250 billion), aid to small businesses ($350 billion), cash payments to households ($300 billion), aid to states ($150 billion), emergency funding for health care supplies and investments ($100 billion), and money for industry bailouts ($450 billion). The total package will provide more than $2 trillion in funds.
There is much to like in this package, and timely relief is critical. But it also contains many flaws, largely left over from the first proposal forwarded by Senate Republicans. Because many of the weaknesses of this first proposal remain, the package will not be up to the job of fully protecting U.S. workers and their families from the economic consequences of the coronavirus shock, and it will not allow the economy to reboot quickly enough once the public health crisis ends. Further help from policymakers will clearly be needed.
When we estimated that a relief and recovery package needed to be at least $2.1 trillion just through the end of 2020, we noted that this was the number for a package that was well-targeted and would reliably deliver the vast majority of benefits to workers and their families. The CARES Act does not do that. Even though it includes more than $2 trillion in funding, key design failures mean the legislation will not be large enough to provide the necessary economic relief and recovery. The economy will continue to operate significantly below potential through the end of the year, even in optimistic scenarios where the shock caused by social distancing measures is relatively short.
States are projected to lose more jobs due to the coronavirus: 14 million jobs could be lost by summer
Last week, we published a map showing the job losses in each state likely to occur over the coming months as businesses shutter in response to the social distancing measures necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19. Sadly, our predictions were likely too optimistic. Expectations of how many jobs will ultimately be lost are rapidly evolving, with new forecasts from different macroeconomic analysts being released on an almost daily basis. As new data and projections become available, EPI is updating our estimates of the number of jobs nationally, and by state, that the economy is likely to lose in the coming months.
Our best guess at this point is that the national economy could lose 14 million jobs by summer 2020. These estimates assume $1 trillion in fiscal stimulus—in other words, even with $1 trillion in stimulus, the job losses will be enormous. EPI estimates we will need at least $2.1 trillion in federal stimulus through 2020 to restore the country to reasonable economic health. Congress is debating an economic stimulus package around $2 trillion, and if it is targeted enough, it could help mitigate some of these losses. Yet even with these measures, many people will still need to remain out of work, potentially for months, in order to stop the virus’s spread. In addition to federal action, lawmakers at the state and local levels must do everything they can to ensure that these workers and their families do not suffer economically during this time.
As with our previous post, the map in Figure A shows how the projected 14 million jobs lost nationally are likely to be distributed across the states. The national job losses are distributed in proportion to the average of each state’s share of total national private-sector employment and each state’s share of national retail, leisure, and hospitality employment. We give added weight to these sectors as they are likely to be disproportionately affected by the social distancing measures that are needed to slow this pandemic. States like Nevada, Montana, and Hawaii are projected to lose the highest percentage of their employment because a large amount of their workforce is employed in the leisure, hospitality, and retail sectors.Read more
Southern state policymakers must do more to respond to the coronavirus pandemic: Medicaid expansion, emergency paid sick leave, and dedicated public health resources are especially needed
This piece is the first in a three-part series examining the economic and social conditions that impact health outcomes in Southern states, and how these conditions leave communities underprepared to protect frontline workers and communities during the pandemic.
U.S. federal lawmakers are poised to pass a stimulus package to combat the coronavirus pandemic’s public health and economic damage. In a recent post, we laid out the critical steps that state and local lawmakers should take to protect workers and families, slow the spread of the virus, and mitigate its economic toll. This piece will highlight how state and local policymakers in the Southern states are responding to the crisis, and what more is needed.
Health organizations broadly recognize that where we live and work impacts health risks and health outcomes. By recognizing the economic and social conditions that influence health equity for people living in Southern states, policymakers can provide more targeted solutions to protect public health and support families already struggling to make ends meet.