The coronavirus pandemic is changing the way we live and it’s changing the way we work, too. But even as the where and the how of work shift radically for many, the current web of policies to support workers and families remains devastatingly the same: totally inadequate.
Accessible and affordable child care, comprehensive paid sick time and paid family leave, and robust unemployment insurance are all key issues on which we have seen concrete political action during this time of crisis. Yet broad exemptions and exclusions in Congress’ response to the emergency prevent all workers—especially low-income and frontline workers, many of whom are also parents—from accessing support during the emergency.
Before this crisis, many low-income workers and communities of color were already living with deep economic inequities and struggling to make ends meet. Thirty-eight million people were living in poverty in 2018, including 11.9 million children. Millions of low-income workers could not find adequate work, and millions more were working two or three minimum wage jobs just to get by. And we know that today the COVID-19 crisis is disproportionately impacting low-income workers and workers of color who are more likely to work in the service industry and have been hit hardest by job losses. According to Pew Research Center, more than half of low-income adult households have lost jobs or wages due to COVID-19. That means that job- and income-protecting policies are extremely critical right now, an unprecedented time when schools and child care centers are closed, families are wrestling with the competing demands of work and caregiving responsibilities at home, and the lack of uniform paid sick leave forces some to keep working to the detriment of their health and the collective health of our nation.
Our lawmakers must remember that workers are people, and many workers are parents. Some are unemployed or underemployed and struggling to access an overburdened and inadequate unemployment insurance program. Some are frontline workers without access to sick leave. And too many have to choose between caring for a loved one and their economic security. When these workers suffer, their children and families hurt, too.
Moving forward, Congress must expand paid family and medical leave benefits, paid sick leave and unemployment insurance to ensure they reach all workers, especially low-income workers, for the duration of the economic downturn. Our nation’s low-income workers, workers of color, and their families deserve no less.
To learn more about CDF’s viewpoints and analysis on how the coronavirus is impacting children and youth, click here.