VANCOUVER, Wash. — An exploratory study with implications for the growth of the labor economy indicates that there were only two types of workers during COVID-19: the haves and the have-nots.
Using data collected from 315 employed adults in 45 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, the researchers examined how workers were affected by precariousness – persistent job or income insecurity. They looked at a range of measures related to precariousness, including job insecurity, financial insecurity, previous unemployment, household income and underemployment.
What they found was that most employees had either all positives or all negatives on these measures with little variance.
“We expected to find different nuanced groups. We did not do it. We only found two: those that were good and those that were very bad,” said lead author Andrea Bazzoli, a doctoral student in psychology at Washington State University. “It’s a sign of a two-speed economy and a K-shaped economic recovery: some people are being left behind. This is quite concerning as we recover as a nation from the COVID 19 pandemic.”
The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, only looked at data from employed individuals recruited through Amazon’s crowdsourcing site MTurk in October and December 2020. The sample did not include those currently unemployed, and most participants had traditional employment rather than the self-employment or contractor typical of the gig economy – yet the researchers still found this gap with around 25% of workers belonging to the category of the deprived.
There was little demographic difference between the haves and have-nots in terms of gender, race, and age. The only difference was that the haves were slightly more educated than the have-nots; of employees who did well, 50% had college degrees, compared to 35% of workers who did poorly.
Poor people also reported a host of negative outcomes, including lower physical health, life satisfaction, and work-family conflict, and lower job satisfaction and commitment to their employers.
Insecurity can create a spiraling effect, said co-author Tahira Probst, professor of psychology at WSU. For example, if employees have insufficient income, they may not be able to afford doctor visits or medications leading to poor health, which may make them less fit for their jobs, which increases their job insecurity. employment, which can further deteriorate their health.
“These cycles have implications for organizations as well as for employees themselves,” Probst said. “This serves as a warning: as we see a growing reliance on non-standard employment relationships in the labor economy which by definition, contractually, have higher levels of precariousness, we are going to see more people falling into this group with more instances of these negative outcomes, therefore, it is important for businesses and society as a whole to identify where we can short-circuit these spirals of loss.
More research needs to be done, Bazzoli and Probst said, including replicating these findings with a larger, more representative group of U.S. workers and extending the analysis to European data to see if countries with stronger safety nets have different outcomes for employees.
In the meantime, the researchers suggested that organizations consider the full effects of resorting to precarious working conditions such as those in the gig economy, which Bazzoli called a “double-edged sword.”
“Organizations might see some benefits from non-standard work arrangements because they save money, but this comes with side effects of a less healthy, less productive and less engaged workforce,” said he declared. “Is it worth prioritizing the short-term goal of saving money using these types of arrangements? Because there are long-term consequences.
In addition to Bazzoli and Probst, co-author Jasmina Tomas from the University of Zagreb in Croatia worked on this study while on a Fulbright Fellowship at WSU.