How the Coronavirus Outbreak Is Devastating the Livelihood of Hourly Workers

Evers/CSM / Shutterstock.com

Evers/CSM / Shutterstock.com

As workplaces across sectors are closing their doors in compliance with measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many Americans have found themselves with reduced hours or without jobs completely. A survey of over 700 workers conducted by Branch found that hourly workers are feeling the brunt of these closures more acutely than salaried workers.

Related: 30 Ways Shopping Will Never Be the Same After the Coronavirus

Here’s how the coronavirus has impacted these workers so far, as well as what’s being done to help people.

Last updated: Jan. 8, 2021

Pictured: A worker sanitizes the grandstand handrails despite being closed to the public for safety concerns over the coronavirus in Arcadia, California, on March 14, 2020. Photo by: Evers/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM

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Over Half of Hourly Employees Are Experiencing Reduced Hours, Unpaid Leave or Job Loss

The Branch survey found that 37% of hourly workers are working fewer hours, 17% are on unpaid leave and 2% have lost their jobs. In comparison, 26% of salaried workers are working fewer hours, 6% are on unpaid leave and 1% have lost their jobs. Nearly half of salaried workers — 46% — said they are working roughly the same number of hours as before.

Read: 30 Companies Laying Off the Most People Due To COVID

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Why Hourly Workers Are Being Hit Harder Than Salaried Employees

Hourly workers are experiencing more job loss and decreased hours due to the industries many of them work in.

“In general, hourly employees are seeing reductions in hours and [job loss], specifically in the restaurant vertical and hospitality,” said Atif Siddiqi, CEO of Branch. “When businesses aren’t open, they can’t work. There is no work from home.”

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Restaurant and Food Services Workers Are the Most Heavily Impacted by Coronavirus-Related Closures

Eighty-two percent of hourly employees working in food service are experiencing reduced hours or unpaid leave, the survey found. Hospitality was the second-highest impacted sector, with 73% of employees working fewer hours or on unpaid leave.

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Most Hourly Workers Are Concerned About Affording Day-to-Day Expenses

Hourly workers have typically cited being able to pay their mortgage or rent as their top financial concern, but now they are more concerned about affording shorter-term expenses. Ninety-one percent of hourly workers are worried about being able to afford groceries and 76% are worried about being able to pay their utility bills. Siddiqi said these worries are especially top-of-mind for hourly workers who were already living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Find Out: Companies That Are ‘Too Big To Fail’ Due to Coronavirus

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Many Hourly Employees Are Not Receiving Financial Assistance

At the time of the survey, only 13% of hourly workers were receiving some sort of financial assistance, compared to 25% of salaried workers. However, Siddiqi is optimistic that those numbers could improve.

“In the past week or two we’ve seen some larger employers offer assistance to their employees,” he said.

Here’s a look at some of the major companies that are offering assistance to employees who might not be able to go to work.



Lyft announced that it would provide funds to drivers who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or put under individual quarantine by a public health agency. “This helps support drivers financially when they can’t drive, while also protecting our riders’ health,” the ride-share company stated on its website.

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Olive Garden

Darden Restaurants, which operates Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, Yard House, Seasons 52 and Bahama Breeze, announced that it would now be offering its employees paid sick leave, CNBC reported.

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Postmates established an emergency fleet relief fund for its flexible workers and couriers that will cover the costs of workers’ doctors’ appointments and medical expenses. “This fund will allow couriers in impacted states to take proactive and preventative steps, and will cover medical check-ups regardless of whether the courier has been quarantined or diagnosed with COVID-19,” the company said in a press release.

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Starbucks announced on March 20 that it would pay its employees for the next 30 days, even if they choose to stay at home.

Check Out: 20 Companies With the Happiest Employees

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Uber announced that “any driver or delivery person who is diagnosed with COVID‑19 or is individually asked to self‑isolate by a public health authority will receive financial assistance for up to 14 days while their account is on hold.”

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Walmart is offering up to two weeks pay for those working at a store, club, office or distribution center that is part of a mandated quarantine, and up to 26 weeks pay for those who get coronavirus and are unable to return to work after the two-week quarantine period.

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The Government Could Be Offering Extra Aid, Too

Congress is working on passing an emergency coronavirus economic stimulus bill, though as of March 23, negotiations were at a standstill. The bill that was passed by the House included paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave for employees of businesses with fewer than 500 employees or the government who are infected by the virus, quarantined, have a sick family member or are affected by school closings; free coronavirus testing for all; increased funding for food assistance programs; and stronger unemployment benefits. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act also includes cash measures totaling $301 billion that would give adults up to $1,200 each in the form of a stimulus check.

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What Hourly Employees Can Do in the Meantime

Not every hourly worker is fortunate enough to work for a company that is offering them pay even if they are unable to work, and it’s unknown when the government aid package will pass. Siddiqi offers this advice to those workers who are worried about being able to cover their day-to-day expenses: “Track spending and earnings and look for ways to save money, and look to manage cash flow and expenses a little more.”

He also recommends taking advantage of the assistance that’s being provided by state and national agencies. To find out what benefits you may qualify for, check out Branch’s state-by-state unemployment resource guide.

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Or, Look For Hourly Employment in Another Sector

Not all hourly workers are seeing a decrease in work. Healthcare, retail and manufacturing/construction workers have seen an uptick in job hours since the coronavirus outbreak began. In fact, 15% of retail workers surveyed said their hours had increased. This means that employees who lost their jobs might be able to find work elsewhere.

“In certain sectors, we’re seeing an increase in demand, so there are opportunities and there are employers that are hiring to meet that demand,” Siddiqi said. “Recently, Walmart announced increased hiring and Amazon did as well. There’s an increase in delivery orders on the restaurant side, so Domino’s is another example [of an employer that’s hiring]. For employees that are laid off, focus on the areas of the economy where people are still spending money — grocery stores, retail, convenience stores, distribution centers and fulfillment centers.”

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More Than One-Third of Hourly Workers Are Hopeful About Their Future Employment

Despite the fact that so many hourly workers have faced job loss and lost hours, over one-third remain optimistic about their future prospects. When asked how confident they felt in their employment outlook over the next three months, 37% of hourly workers said they felt confident, compared to 26% who said they were not confident; 37% said they were neutral.

“In the long term, I think that as businesses can get online and start their operations you’ll see an increase in demand [for hourly workers],” Siddiqi said. “With that said, it may be that there are some changes in consumer behavior and demand as a result of coronavirus. There are certain aspects that might change in the types of jobs that are in demand for hourly workers, but in general, I think long-term, the need for hourly labor will continue to evolve with the consistent demand.”

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