Many feel work to be a citizen’s right as well as a personal source of income and satisfaction. Recently US unemployment has been as high as 14.7% though some experts estimate it actually may be as high as 20%. Labor force participation has fallen to 60.2%. Job loss is not an equal opportunity trend. It is well documented that low wage workers are suffering greater losses than professionally employed persons. It also is undisputed that people of color, especially Latinos and African Americans have been hard hit by the pandemic as have women. Predictions regarding when the labor force will regain its pre-pandemic levels are fluid and growing worse with the recent virus resurgence and the mandated school closings. The future shape of work in American is going to change, possibly in good and bad ways.
The potential benefits for those who telecommute are enticing. Greater flexibility in the workday; reduced or nonexistent commutes; less work associated costs such as clothes, gas, and meals; and cheaper rents/mortgages are among the most apparent. Companies will benefit as well, saving up to $11,000 per employee expenses. More people working remotely and at-home can have a detrimental effect on other sectors of society as these changes will cause concomitant losses in restaurant serves, retail, flying, personal services, and housecleaning.
For low wage workers the pandemic-induced economic downturn is likely to lead to fewer job opportunities and stagnant or decreased wages a pattern that has been prevalent for the past forty years. Loss of jobs to automation, already a fear of the previous decade or more, may be accelerated.
But, perhaps the greatest economic impact will be felt among the cohort of students who are attending high school in the era of the pandemic.It is predicted that the “at risk” populations of students of color and among low income students will suffer the greatest deprivations as a consequence to distance learning; they will lose more in educational advancement and will be more likely to drop out of schooling. This will not only greatly impact their personal incomes but will have a significant impact on the overall economy.
McKinsey & Company has estimated that if students do not attend classes until January 2021, students with poor online instruction will loses an average of 7-11 months of skill development and those who receive no instruction will lose 12-14 months. Those with adequate instruction will lag behind by 3-4 months compared to in-class instruction. If classrooms are not reconvened for the spring term, the situation will be even worse. Estimates suggest, for example, that 60% of low income students regularly log on to online instruction compared to 90% of high income students and some states have no mandated online coursework. This will surely exacerbate current achievement gaps. It is suggested that these achievement gaps will cost individuals the equivalent of a year’s salary over their lifetime. The cost to the economy will be about 110 billion dollars annually for the working years of the current cohort of students in high school.
In additional to lost wages, educational attainment is correlated with better health; reduced crime; decreases in incarceration; greater family stability; and increased political participation. Addressing these deficiencies in a growing group of the population has not yet been defined in monetary terms but we cannot afford to ignore these trends.
There are many suggestions of ways to ameliorate these issues. For education, policy-makers need to spend more money and create enrichment programs for students; provide greater opportunities for support, tutors, quiet workspaces; assure the necessary educational “infrastructure,” with satisfactory computers, internet access, study areas, desks, lighting, and good chairs. Provide real skills learning and training for teachers and mental health support for students, families, and instructors. The federal government needs to step up to the plate and support these measures because the strain on states will make them unable to fully address these needs.
For employment, there are also many solutions, for example a living wage, daycare, adequate sick leave, family leave, and some safety measures will have real impacts. For furloughed or unemployed workers, skills training for labor force re-entry should be a priority.
Congress must act quickly in a number of ways. There should be a second, generous CARES act continuing unemployment aid for all including those usually ineligible; health insurance and healthcare for those who are newly or chronically uninsured; and paid sick leave and family leave with return employment. Essential societal needs, largely unaddressed in the first aid package, while profitable industries were receiving emergency aid, must be attended to. These would include support for childcare; school and after school care; support for bargaining units for laborers; and interest free lending to support infrastructure grsowth and job creation. The resources are available; the will to garner them needs to be exercised over increasingly divisive bipartisan bickering.
- Contact our representatives and support a second CARES act
- Contact info for House representatives
- Contact info for Senators