Surging unemployment claims show that our labor market, built for efficiency, can crumble in times of crisis at huge human and economic costs. The pandemic has exposed a weak point in the country’s economy: the precarity of low-wage workers. Many have adapted to unimaginable circumstances, risking their own well-being, implementing public health protocols, and keeping the essential bits of the economy, like access to food, running.
A lack of labor market protections exacerbates these workers’ insecurity and leaves the whole system fragile. Fifty-three million Americans, 44 percent of the labor force, earn low wages.
In the best of times, these workers cycle more frequently from one job to the next without wage advancement.
This lack of job stability causes financial volatility for households even when the economy is growing.