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COVID-19

Crisis cuts many workers’ hours, extends workday for some

Meghan McCarty Carino May 6, 2020
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An employee restocks milk at a grocery store. Some businesses are seeing strong demand during the pandemic and increasing staff hours. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
COVID-19

Crisis cuts many workers’ hours, extends workday for some

Meghan McCarty Carino May 6, 2020
Heard on:
An employee restocks milk at a grocery store. Some businesses are seeing strong demand during the pandemic and increasing staff hours. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The pandemic is hitting American workers hard — every day there’s more bad news about layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts. A new Marketplace Edison Research Poll showed that among those who are still employed, more than a third have had their hours cut. But 16% are actually working more hours than before.

Houston electrician Mike Cargill is one of them. Home electricity usage has surged during the lockdown, and so has his pay.

“Because people are at home watching TV or plugging their laptop in different areas to work from home and realizing, ‘Oh my goodness, this outlet doesn’t work,’ ” he said.

Meanwhile, his fiancee, who works in marketing, and his dad, who consults in the oil fields, are out of work. “It is definitely strange,” Cargill said.

Every recession has winners and losers, said Julia Pollak, labor economist with job site ZipRecruiter, but the juxtapositions caused by this economic shock have been extreme.

“This is like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” she said. “Job postings have fallen 47%. At the same time, it has caused sales and user growth to soar in some other businesses,” like grocery stores, e-commerce and pharmaceuticals.

Though big companies like Amazon and Walmart are hiring to meet increased demand, she said more businesses are simply increasing hours for existing staff.

But not all of those workers are getting paid more, said Jed Kolko, chief economist with job site Indeed.

“It’s one thing to want more hours, get more hours and get paid for it,” he said. “It’s something else entirely to have to work more hours just to get your same job done for the same pay.”

That’s the case for Carolyn Behrens, a middle-school English teacher in Richmond, Virginia, who has revamped her curriculum for remote classes and switched to more one-on-one sessions for students with learning disabilities.

“Because you’re doing things more individually, it just takes longer,” she said.

She estimates she’s working about two extra hours a day. But as an already overworked teacher, she stopped keeping track.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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