COVID-19

For newly “essential” workers, benefits are still limited

Kimberly Adams Apr 15, 2020
Share Now on:
How long will benefits like hazard pay and paid sick leave last after the pandemic ends? Al Bello/Getty Images
COVID-19

For newly “essential” workers, benefits are still limited

Kimberly Adams Apr 15, 2020
How long will benefits like hazard pay and paid sick leave last after the pandemic ends? Al Bello/Getty Images

Doctors and nurses are on the front lines fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. But as Marketplace has been covering, many other workers also provide essential services. They’re also at risk of getting sick — and some are dying.

Which has many workers newly questioning their pay and benefits. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the concerns of grocery store stockers and cashiers, package and restaurant delivery folks and food-service workers.

Like Terrence Wise, who works at a McDonald’s in Kansas City, Missouri. Even though he’s suddenly an essential worker, his benefits are nonexistent.

“I have no benefits,” Wise said. “No healthcare, no paid sick days, no dental.”

Not to mention life insurance or retirement contributions.

Maureen Conway, executive director of the Economic Opportunities Program at the Aspen Institute, said the pandemic has changed the political discourse around benefits for low-wage workers.

“But I’m not seeing companies sort of step up and say, ‘We’re changing our policies in terms of our health insurance plans and coverage’ as much as I’m seeing some action on the hazard pay and paid sick,” Conway said.

Measures Amazon, Walmart and certain grocery stores are doing on a temporary basis. Keith Hollingsworth, professor of management at Morehouse College, is skeptical it will last.

“When we come out of this, think how many people are going to be desperate for work and will take almost anything to help pay for the bills,” Hollingsworth said.

So businesses may have little incentive to change benefit policies in the long term. But Conway said public perception has changed — at least for the time being.

“We are now newly recognizing grocery store workers and delivery drivers as valued workers,” she said. “How do we really, truly value that work going forward?”

And will that translate into new benefits for these workers once the crisis has passed?

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

When does the expanded COVID-19 unemployment insurance run out?

The CARES Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in March, authorized extra unemployment payments, increasing the amount of money, and broadening who qualifies. The increased unemployment benefits have an expiration date — an extra $600 per week the act authorized ends on July 31.

Which states are reopening?

Many states have started to relax the restrictions put in place in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. Although social-distancing measures still hold virtually everywhere in the country, more than half of states have started to phase out stay-at-home orders and phase in business reopenings. Others, like New York, are on slower timelines.

Is it worth applying for a job right now?

It never hurts to look, but as unemployment reaches levels last seen during the Great Depression and most available jobs are in places that carry risks like the supermarket or warehouses, it isn’t a bad idea to sit tight either, if you can.

You can find answers to more questions here.

As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.

Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.