American workers are more vulnerable than ever to crises like the novel coronavirus

31.5 million mostly front-line, customer-facing jobs offer both low hourly wages and a limited number of hours of work per week, and are particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemicThe US employment situation is more dependent on these jobs than it was before the Great Recession.Just as we must be less complacent about the enormous health…

American workers are more vulnerable than ever to crises like the novel coronavirus

31.5 million mostly front-line, customer-facing jobs offer both low hourly wages and a limited number of hours of work per week, and are particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemicThe US employment situation is more dependent on these jobs than it was before the Great Recession.Just as we must be less complacent about the enormous health challenges posed by the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus, we must anticipate a tremendous economic hit to the labor force.This will require far more than a payroll tax cut or the enhancement of unemployment benefits.Dan Alpert is an adjunct professor at Cornell Law School and a founding managing partner of the New York investment bank Westwood Capital LLC.This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Over 57% of working Americans today are employed on an hourly basis or are self-employed. While this figure has not varied by more than a few percentage points over the past thirty years, the quality of hourly- and self-employment – and the vulnerability of workers to loss of employment during an economic crisis like what we are facing with the outbreak of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus – is far worse than it has ever been.The quality of hourly work is decliningThe traditional view of the hourly worker as the clock-punching factory hand – often the member of a union, with decent healthcare and layoff benefits – has given way to enormous service sectors that offer the most casual of employment on an hourly basis – often with few hours of work available to workers even in good times.As a result, we’re seeing pay for many US production and non-supervisory jobs — so any worker who is not in management or an executive — get weaker. Almost 56% of US production and non-supervisory jobs (about 59.5 million jobs) offer weekly incomes below the $802 weighted average weekly income for all such jobs. Together, those low-quality jobs offer a weighted average of $539 in weekly income, or just over $28,000 per year.But there is a subset of these workers, in jobs offering even less income than the above, that are particularly vulnerable to the spreading pandemic. They occupy mostly front-line, literally customer-facing jobs that offer both low hourly wages and a limited number of hours of work per week. And there are a huge number of them – over 31.5 million, constituting nearly 30% of all production and non-supervisory jo
Read More From Publisher