Locked Out By Low Wages

New York Service Workers’ Challenges With Accessing Unemployment Insurance During Covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is the largest public health and economic crisis in modern history. This devastation has been especially magnified for Black workers and workers of color in New York State. Beyond the everyday repression, exploitation and disinvestment that communities of color face, particularly Black communities, workers are living through unprecedented rates of unemployment, hunger and housing insecurity. This is in part because workers of color make up the majority of the restaurant, hospitality, and personal services sectors, some of the hardest hit since the national shut down following COVID-19. This crisis has amplified the fact that the service sector has long been plagued by poverty wages, unsustainable working conditions and the racist devaluation of service workers.

Before the pandemic, more than 770,000 New York restaurant workers and over 400,000 tipped service workers, including not only restaurant but nail salon, car wash, airport and parking attendants, tipped gig workers and many others, were disproportionately likely to live in poverty and rely on public assistance. We define the ‘service sector’ to include all of the above occupations, with restaurants comprising the largest share of tipped workers and the sector overall. We estimate that close to half a million workers in the New York service sector lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19.


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