Sunday, March 15, 2020

Protecting workers from COVID-19

36 percent of Americans participate in the gig economy in some way, according to a 2018 Gallup poll and while those gigs offer flexibility, they also have virtually no safety net, says Erin Hatton, an associate professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

The coronavirus outbreak shows just how vulnerable these workers are. It is the uncertainty of how much the virus will spread - and how much it will disrupt daily life - that has made many gig workers worry. Not everyone has an income cushion. A recent study by the Federal Reserve found that nearly 40 percent of US households would struggle with an unexpected $400 expense, let alone go weeks or months without income. The outbreak may be drawing much-needed attention to the necessity for better protections for gig workers

"Many of these workers are working very close to the line, they need the hours because they're low-wage workers and they don't get paid sick leave," Hatton told Al Jazeera. "Many of them are also frontline service providers, so that they interact with a lot of people, which means they are potentially exposed and put in a vulnerable position and then also they can expose others."

Faced with the prospect of being unable to afford medical care or health insurance and a decline in business, many are worried about the financial repercussions.
Public health experts say it is crucial for those experiencing any symptoms to stay home and get tested but that is easier said than done when 27.9 million Americans do not have health insuranceOut-of-pocket medical costs can become an enormous burden. The average three-day hospital stay in the US costs about $30,000.
"The majority of workers in America just don't have that cushion to go without pay," Hatton said. "So this provides a really bad incentive during this crisis to continue to work at all costs."
Besides the loss of income from taking sick leave, uber-workers stand a higher chance of contracting the virus - as their jobs could bring them into contact with people who may already have it. The Catch-22 is that people vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus - such as the elderly - could become even more dependent on gig workers. Public health officials in other countries have already advised those with underlying medical conditions to stay home. But it is gig workers who are often the ones responsible for caring for them and delivering food and medicine to their homes.
Only about 4 percent of workers have more than 14 paid sick days per year, the period for which people exposed to the coronavirus are asked to self-quarantine.

Trump quickly pledged to defer payments on federal loans to small businesses and defer taxes for businesses hit by the virus but has yet to put forth a detailed plan of relief for hourly workers amid the coronavirus outbreak.

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