Not Working: Coronavirus Exposes a Broken System That Fails Workers

Thursday, March 26, 2020

By Beth Brockland, Senior Director, Financial Health Network

Reading about the coronavirus pandemic feels a little bit like watching the world unravel before our very eyes. Every day brings new stock market lows and emergency measures. At the same time, people all over the country are demonstrating remarkable acts of humanity, practicing social distancing to protect the critically ill and health workers, and taking care of neighbors and loved ones who are quarantined. On many levels, these feel like unprecedented times.

There’s an unraveling happening for most of us on a personal level, too. No, I’m not talking about stress-eating and obsessive news-watching, though that’s definitely the reality. We’re all unraveling in our everyday lives, little by little — some faster than others, depending on how close we live to one of the virus’ hot spots.

Schools are closed. Cities are emptying as many people are working from home indefinitely. Conferences, concerts, sporting events, and now even weddings are being cancelled. For my husband’s recent birthday, we had planned a nice dinner out at a nearby restaurant. Instead, we stayed home and ordered pizza.

Financially Vulnerable Workers Are Hardest Hit

For many people, particularly white-collar workers who have the ability to work from home, these are disappointments and inconveniences. But for millions of drivers, hotel staff, waiters, bartenders, baggage handlers, and other hourly and low-wage workers, many of whom lack sick leave or a savings cushion, this pandemic has potentially devastating financial health consequences. Small businesses are hard-hit, too, especially as more local governments are ordering restaurants and bars to close their doors.

Fortunately, some business leaders are taking action to protect workers, extending paid sick leave to hourly workers and contractors who previously didn’t qualify. State governments are expanding unemployment insurance to fill gaps. The relief package signed by the President on Wednesday night extends sick leave to more workers (though millions are still left out). These are important measures that will protect millions of workers from having to make the terrible choice between staying home because they or a loved one are sick, or getting paid.

In our new normal, this crisis has exposed the massive cracks in our country’s current system, in which millions of workers lack basic protections like paid sick and family leave. While today’s circumstances feel particularly dramatic because of the coronavirus pandemic, the choice between caring for themselves or a family member and getting paid is one that millions of American workers have always faced. Let’s hope that the current crisis sparks a different kind of unraveling — of a system that leaves too many workers vulnerable.

To address the ongoing financial health repercussions of the novel coronavirus pandemic, we’re launching a new COVID-19 financial health resource hub. Explore data, strategies, and case studies to support the unfolding financial health needs of your employees, customers, and communities.

By Financial Health Network on March 26, 2020.

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