A new survey commissioned by the Economic Policy Institute finds that only 30% of people working outside their home are receiving “hazard pay,” meaning 70% are not receiving a wage increase or bonus in spite of greater risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic. The share of workers receiving hazard pay is far less than the share perceiving coronavirus risks from working outside their home.
The survey’s authors, EPI distinguished fellow Lawrence Mishel and Evergreen State College professor emeritus of political economy Peter Dorman, found that Black (40.6%) and Hispanic (33.5%) workers are more likely to receive hazard pay than white workers (26.8%). Only 32.3% of non-college educated workers received hazard pay, slightly more than college-educated workers (24.2%). Workers had received hazard pay if they answered that they received extra pay or benefits because of the higher risks they face—in the form of a one-time payment or bonus, a change in their rate of pay (either hourly, weekly, or otherwise), or some other financial benefit.
This survey reports findings from other recent surveys conducted by the National Employment Law Project, the Washington Post–Ipsos, and the Roosevelt Institute on the pervasive safety fears among those at work, with Black, Hispanic and low and middle-income workers having, by far, the greatest concerns. Bringing together these data sources, Mishel and Dorman find that more than 50% of workers employed outside of their home are concerned about bringing the coronavirus home yet only 30% receive hazard pay. Likewise, some 71% of Black workers employed outside their home are fearful of bringing the coronavirus home but only 40.6% receive hazard pay.
“First and foremost, all workers deserve a safe workplace, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, in which inadequate protection is causing workers to contract the coronavirus. Additionally, they deserve fair pay for the increased risk they now face,” said Mishel. “It’s shameful that only 30% of people working outside their homes are receiving hazard pay and that there are no federal standards to make workplaces safe.”
This failure of workers to be fairly compensated for the risks they face runs contrary to what some economists expect in a market setting where employers and employees contract as equals: the theory of “compensating wage differentials” says workers are compensated for the extra risks they face on the job. The fact that this is not currently the case is unsurprising given the high unemployment environment that is certainly weakening workers’ bargaining leverage. Moreover, most workers have weakened bargaining power relative to their employer even in “normal” times, as decades of wage suppression and rising wage inequality attest.
Workers have very low expectations of their employers. Although a majority of workers are fearful of risking their families’ health by going to work and roughly half believe they face moderate or high health risks on the job, EPI’s poll indicates that only 8% are “dissatisfied” with the safety precautions taken by their employer to protect them from the risk of infection. The authors attribute this to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failing to issue standards, thereby suppressing worker expectations and limiting workers’ own efforts to protect themselves.
“Workers require and deserve both safety protections and extra compensation in these circumstances, and they should not be forced to choose between their health and having income,” said Dorman. “Policymakers urgently need to step up to protect vulnerable workers from further economic and physical harm.”