The COVID-19 pandemic has killed over 20,000 New Yorkers, sickened many more, and triggered the worst economic recession since the 1930s. The societal shutdown that was necessary to slow the spread of the virus has put many New Yorkers out of work, and the economic impacts of the crisis will continue even after a vaccine or treatment is discovered.
CWE is partnering with economist James Parrott of the Center for New York City Affairs (CNYCA) at The New School to help New York policy makers and service providers develop programs to meet New Yorkers’ economic needs during this crisis.
On April 15th, Parrott released a new report, “The New Strain of Inequality: The Economic Impact of Covid-19 In New York City,” which found that the extent of job loss during the COVID-19 shutdown was likely far higher than City officials had estimated. Parrott estimated that 1.2 million jobs had been lost in the five boroughs, and that 68% of the newly unemployed were people of color. Two-thirds of those losing work had earnings below $40,000, while only 10% of those earning over $100,000 were displaced from jobs. Low-income workers usually fare worse in a recession, but this time the dislocation is much more concentrated among those least able to weather lost earnings.
“Recessions often have a snowballing effect as unemployment rises and consumer spending falls off,” says Parrott. “Businesses that were reliant on high levels of consumer spending or were debt-burdened before get pushed over the edge. All this could result in a second wave of job losses.”
A key question will be how many New Yorkers will have jobs to return to after their respective industries are cleared for reopening, especially given necessary restrictions to keep the COVID-19 infection rate in check. Some businesses will never reopen. The retail industry reopened on Monday, but was limited to pick-up sales, and restaurants will only be allowed to reopen in the future with reduced customer capacity.
“What will this mean for workers? We want to stay in touch with the unions and community-based organizations closest to workers and with business groups to monitor economic well-being and better gauge the prospects for small business and job recovery,” says Parrott.
Parrott and CWE will also develop proposals for programs and policies that make sense in this unique recession. This could include incorporating COVID-19 health and safety into training for all jobs, so workers can keep themselves safe. Training in COVID-19 safety could also become a prerequisite for many jobs that involve interactions with the public.
Additionally, the pandemic is creating demands for new kinds of jobs, like deep cleaners for worksites and temperature checkers for office buildings. CWE partners can work with employers to develop job training and placement programs to meet this need, and help workers in hard-hit communities get these jobs.
CWE hopes to hold on to the gains that have been made in recent years.
“Before COVID-19, New York City had a sustained period of job growth and increases in the minimum wage, which produced something rare in the last 30 years–real wage and income growth for low- and middle-income New Yorkers,” says Parrott. “CWE’s Jobs to Build On program connected people to these jobs where wages were rising. It improved the economic standing of these working families, but that is in jeopardy now because of job dislocations.”
Black, Latinx and Asian families saw considerable income gains over the past decade, yet their incomes remain 40 percent or more below the incomes of white families. Parrott noted, “Those gains are now at risk. As the city’s economy recovers we need to do everything possible to come back with greater equity than before.”
Parrott hopes to be able to draw on the deep relationships that CWE community partners have developed with local residents over decades to get a hyperlocal perspective on the recession’s impacts, directly from the grassroots.
While much remains unknown, it is clear that New York City workers are going to face headwinds in the months ahead, says Parrott.
“We are clearly in a recession at this point. The usual recessionary forces will hold back the strength of the recovery. We need targeted and responsive government assistance that helps workers get jobs and overcome those obstacles.”
Parrott has written extensively over the years on how short- and long-term economic trends have affected New York’s workers. His recent reports include assessing the impact of the $15 minimum wage on restaurants and their workers, supporting a minimum pay standard for Uber and Lyft drivers, analyzing the shortcomings in the state’s workers’ compensation program, and estimating the magnitude of the state’s low-paid gig and independent contractor workforce.
Workers’ World Today is a free publication that empowers all workers, regardless of social or political affiliations. Distributed throughout New York City, our paper has a mission to educate workers and provide them with relevant information pertinent to the workforce such as workers’ compensation, discrimination on the job, workers’ rights, and more.