I read a fascinating article by Maureen Conway, vice president of policy programs and executive director of the Economic Opportunities Program at The Aspen Institute. In it, Conway asks, “What happened to all the US workers?” According to Conway, it was a myriad of things:
• When the pandemic hit, businesses responded by firing millions of workers, which left a bad taste in many employee’s mouths.
• Next, the unemployment insurance system failed. The patchwork of state systems were decades out of date and unable to respond to the volume of claims. Congress enacted emergency assistance, but inadequate systems still left many workers with long waits for benefits, and the struggle of financial stress and debt.
• Millions of low-wage workers were thrown out of work with no notice, severance payment, or goodbye party in industries like retail, food service, and hospitality.
• Millions of essential workers continued to work in nursing homes and hospitals, groceries stores and food processing facilities. However, their jobs became more difficult and dangerous. Essential workers died at elevated rates and had few support systems.
• And then there are the millions of unpaid workers whose work at home became much more difficult. Parents rely on schools, child care centers, and summer camps that were suddenly unavailable or unaffordable. The upheaval had a disproportionate impact on women, millions of whom still have not made it back into the workforce.
The US has let its standards and protections for workers erode for decades. Additionally, US policymaking has not been responsive to the interests of working people for a very long time. Business interests and profits have taken precedence.
So, what happened to all the workers? According to Conway, “The incredible traumas that the pandemic inflicted on the US workforce came on top of a steady accretion of ‘business friendly’ policies and shareholder-focused corporate practices that have been undermining wages and working conditions for decades.”
Jill, What Can I Do? Consider Conway’s findings. The best way to bring people back to work would be to make work better, putting the policies and practices in place to make sure that what happened to all the workers never happens again.