A policy manifesto for paying, protecting, and empowering essential workers

Source: Molly Kinder and Laura Stateler, Brookings Institution, Metropolitan Policy Program, March 18, 2021

….Powell and his fellow frontline employees at the hospital are strenuously working to do jobs like cleaning, taking vital signs, and spending time with patients—but without the decent pay and respect that nurses and doctors earn. “These are people who work very, very, very hard, and who make very, very, very little,” he said.

With the country on track for mass vaccinations in the coming months, the worst of the pandemic may be over. But the risks facing frontline essential workers like Powell have not ended. Many of the underlining inequities they face—including low wages, structural racism, and inadequate protections—remain.

It is long past time that we treat essential workers as truly essential. Lawmakers in Washington and around the country have the opportunity to turn their policy rhetoric into real change. The recommendations in this report lay out how federal, state, and local policymakers can—finally—give essential workers what they have always deserved: the dignity of a living wage, lifesaving protections, and power in their workplaces…..