Workers Face Challenging, Unique Era

EDITORIAL The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This editorial takes a look at how the pandemic has, directly and indirectly, affected most aspects of employment. It also examines the need for significant improvements to public policies to improve job security and compensation.

Wilkes-Barre

Jobs and work are the infrastructure of the society, supporting just about everything else. But the value of work rarely has had such a high level of everyday awareness as it has now during the seemingly endless COVID-19 crisis.

The experience points to the need for significant improvements to public policies to improve job security and compensation.

The economic fallout from the crisis is profound, directly and indirectly affecting most aspects of employment.

It has revealed just how narrow the margins are for untold millions of American working people, including about 29 million people still receiving some form of unemployment assistance, and more in the freelance/gig economy who don't qualify for help. Even with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's extended ban on foreclosures and evictions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, many low-income people face evictions or foreclosure.

Thousands of medical professionals and support staff at hospitals in hard-hit areas, and perpetually underpaid nursing home staffers, proved themselves to be heroes and demonstrated that their desire to enter the profession to help people was not just lip service.

The crisis also has recast a great deal of low-compensation work as being essential to a functioning society. Supermarket store clerks not only manned their stations but found themselves to be frontline soldiers in the fight to contain the coronavirus, enforcing distancing and mask-wearing when many customers didn't want to hear it.

And millions of office workers now work at home, creating a dynamic that likely will outlive the pandemic and bring vast changes to cities and work environments everywhere.

Increase minimum wage The crisis has laid bare deficiencies in the structure of work for millions of Americans. The state and federal governments should strive to correct those deficiencies permanently, not just during emergencies.

Shamefully, the federal and Pennsylvania governments have not increased the minimum wage since 2009, so that millions of people in service industries have risked illness while enforcing public health for $7.25 an hour. The situation is particularly egregious in Pennsylvania, which is the only state in the entire Northeast that has not raised its minimum wage since the federal increase. All six states surrounding Pennsylvania have minimum wages at least $2 an hour higher, and none have experienced the economic calamity that minimum wage critics always predict, prior to the pandemic.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 was worth 14.8% less in 2018 than when it was last raised in 2009, after adjusting for inflation, and 28.6% less than its peak value in 1968, when the minimum wage was the equivalent of $10.15 in 2018 dollars.

The U.S. House has passed a bill to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by the end of 2024, which, according to the Economic Policy Institute, would increase wages for 38.6 million adults, 23.8 million full-time workers, 23 million women, and 11.2 million parents and 5.4 million single parents who care for 14.4 million children.

The pandemic also found millions of workers without any paid medical leave, so that they instantaneously lost their incomes. Congress should establish minimum protections in that regard.

As the pandemic took hold in the United States and governments reacted by shutting down parts of the economy, many low-wage workers were surprised to discover that they were "essential" and had to be at work.

The truth for individuals, the economy and society, of course, is that all work is essential. It's time for politicians to stop paying lip service to the nobility of work and start to ensure that people are compensated for it. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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