Coronavirus Slams Hourly Workers

More than half facing reduced hours, job loss, new study shows
A restaurant closed sign

While the current coronavirus pandemic and its resulting COVID-19 illness is impacting arguably every aspect of society, hourly workers may be especially vulnerable to the financial fallout.

A new survey by Branch, a financial-wellness app developer, looked at how hourly workers have fared as the coronavirus pandemic has spread. It surveyed more than 700 employees on March 17, 2020 and found that a majority of hourly workers — 56% — had already experienced reduced hours, or, in some cases, the loss of a job completely.

Employers across the country have had to respond rapidly to the growing coronavirus threat in recent weeks, with some asking employees to work remotely as a way to encourage social distancing and prevent sick employees from transmitting illness to healthy employees.

However, some businesses can’t operate with a remote workforce and are having to resort to more drastic measures, such as cutting the hours of employees or even laying workers off. According to the Branch survey, approximately 33% of employers had shut down at the time the polling took place.

Food service tops most-impacted industries

The industry in which hourly workers suffered the hardest hit was the restaurant/food service industry, where 82% of hourly workers said they had experienced reduced hours or unpaid leave. That was followed by the hospitality sector, where 73% of hourly employees were subject to fewer hours or unpaid leave.

On the flip side, several industries seemed to be experiencing more of a mixed picture, with some workers actually seeing an increase in their hours.

In the healthcare industry, 24% of hourly employees were working more than before the outbreak, though another 40% were either working less or were on unpaid leave. In retail, 15% of hourly workers saw an increase in hours, possibly due to a jump in demand for groceries and other basic goods, even as 56% had seen their hours cut or had been furloughed or laid off entirely.

Most hourly workers — 87% — said they had received no financial assistance from their employers so far. And although 13% of hourly workers reported receiving some type of financial help, that’s a lower percentage than the 25% of salaried workers getting assistance from their workplace.

The top ways employers were providing financial assistance to both hourly and salaried employees were:

  • Paid shutdown leave (37%)
  • Paid sick leave (36%)
  • Emergency fund (15%)
  • Bonus pay (8%)

Lack of food tops concerns among hourly workers

The top financial concern for hourly workers has been paying for groceries, cited by 91% of respondents. That was followed by:

  • Paying utility bills (76%)
  • Being able to afford mortgage/rent (60%)

Salaried workers surveyed were just slightly less worried, with 82% listing being able to afford groceries as a top fear, and 61% citing utility payments.

The work slowdowns and shutdowns caused by the coronavirus are affecting everyone. If you’re finding that you are unable to make ends meet, it might be worth contacting your creditors and utility providers. Some have announced plans to work with customers who are experiencing hardship due to the outbreak.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.