How long will benefits like hazard pay and paid sick leave last after the pandemic ends? Al Bello/Getty Images

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

New COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. How are Americans reacting?

Johns Hopkins University reports the seven-day average of new cases hit 68,767 on Sunday  — a record — eclipsing the previous record hit in late July during the second, summer wave of infection. A funny thing is happening with consumers though: Even as COVID-19 cases rise, Americans don’t appear to be shying away from stepping indoors to shop or eat or exercise. Morning Consult asked consumers how comfortable they feel going out to eat, to the shopping mall or on a vacation. And their willingness has been rising. Surveys find consumers’ attitudes vary by age and income, and by political affiliation, said Chris Jackson, who heads up polling at Ipsos.

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

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