This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly jobs report for March. According to the report, the unemployment rate is now at 4.4%, 0.9% higher than last month’s. In addition, 701,000 nonfarm jobs were lost in March, yet as the report and others note, this number does not fully encapsulate the economic downturn in the last couple of weeks.
As the pandemic continues to grip both the nation and the world, those outside of the “traditional” economy may face inconsistency between what the CARES Act, the coronavirus relief package, provides and what happens in practice. As unemployment numbers have skyrocketed to 7.1 million, the Washington Post reported that states lack the necessary infrastructure to provide speedy and responsive relief to those gig workers who have applied under the new program. This systemic failure has resulted in states requesting these workers to delay their applications, leaving individuals uncertain as to when aid will be available. And while the Paycheck Protection Program provides small businesses with loans that can help to maintain payrolls, a delayed application time for independent contractors and self-employed individuals has the potential, as the Associated Press notes, to bar access to the somewhat limited funds, as larger corporations are also able to seek relief under this provision.
As retail stores remain closed to stop the spread of the virus, nearly 1 in 16 retail employees have been furloughed this week, leaving them at home with no wages. Yet, the need to mitigate infection has had varying impacts on employees around the nation. For workers at nuclear power plants, the pandemic has allowed for up to 86 hour work weeks, adding an additional 14 more hours to a worker’s time spent on the job. Such a change is subject to the discretion of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but would mean that workers, assigned to one of two rotations, could have 12 hour shifts for 14 days in a row. This scheme is a result of staffing requirements at nuclear power plants, with one industry expert noting that it “could minimize exposures and risks of infection among workers.”
Worker attempts to unionize at Trader Joe’s are being met with resistance. Trader Joe’s has responded to employee hazard pay demands with attempts to dissuade unionization, providing warnings such as: “a union is a business and they’re trying to take your money.” While its anti-union message is strong, the store has refused to require employees to wear gloves, instead leaving the decision to store-level management. In some locations, this has resulted in a refusal to allow such protective gear.
Over the past couple of days, many have highlighted the extent to which coronavirus has exacerbated existing problems in our workforce, specifically with respect to race, as Maxwell noted yesterday, immigration and gender. The Economic Policy Institute released a study revealing that women are more prevalent in the sectors that are both high in demand – health care and social assistance – and low in demand – leisure and hospitality – during the pandemic. Noting that these sectors suffer from a gender wage gap, the study highlights the unequal burden that women workers carry during this time.