In Their Own Voices: How Workers Earning Low Wages Struggle with COVID-19

By: Adewale Maye and Emma Williamson

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent recession have crippled the economy and propelled many working families into economic uncertainty. Millions of workers have been permanently laid off, furloughed, or deemed essential and having to work through unsafe conditions threatening their health, the health of their families, and public health overall. Without robust protections, workers paid low wages, and workers of color in particlular, face some of the most severe impacts of the pandemic and recession. Even during normal times many of these workers do not have access to critical workplace protections and benefits, including sufficient hours, paid sick leave, paid family and medical leave, and overall job security. Unfortunately, the pandemic has further diminished workers’ job quality and security.

To amplify and assess the needs of workers during this time, CLASP has been collecting stories from workers nationwide. This brief shares some initial findings of workers’ challenges in balancing work and caring for themselves or loved ones when they are ill during this public health crisis. These stories should help policymakers develop comprehensive and inclusive state, local, and national policies centered on equity that strengthen or improve the enforcement of existing policies for workers in low-wage sectors.