Changes in Workplace, Covid-19 Hit Low-Wage Workers Hardest

New Shriver Center report urges policy changes to increase racial equity and protect low-wage workers

Dawn Raftery, 312.771.7724

CHICAGO — Fundamental shifts in the labor market over the past 25 years have upended how and where we work, with the deepest impact on low-wage workers, according to a new report released today from the Shriver Center on Poverty Law.

These workers continue to struggle with lack of benefits, few health and safety protections, and income and job security. The increased use of technology to hire, schedule and manage workers and significant growth in part-time, gig or temporary work has failed to benefit low-income workers, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities for low-income workers and workers of color, often making their work more dangerous, the report finds.

The Future of Work for Low-Wage Workers, which will be discussed in a free Shriver Center webinar today, is based on interviews with 30 workers between March-June 2022 across Illinois — including nannies, day laborers, rideshare workers and warehouse workers — to learn more about their workplace concerns and experiences, and to lift up their voices to raise awareness of their challenges and prompt policy changes. Issues raised by those interviewed reflect many of the same concerns of low-wage workers across the country.

“The daily challenges that workers with low income face overwhelmingly affect people of color,” said Audra Wilson, president and CEO of the Shriver Center, a leading national advocate for racial and economic justice. “We must recognize that low-wage work is a racial justice issue. Improving the working conditions and increasing the benefits of the lowest paid workers would improve the financial stability and economic mobility for workers of color.”

Among key concerns cited in worker interviews:

  • Illinois’s minimum wage is insufficient to meet a family’s basic needs, and several hundred thousand Illinois workers do not receive even a minimum wage
  • Benefits are crucial to allow workers to both perform their jobs effectively and take care of themselves and their families
  • Low-wage workers commonly face health and safety issues on the job, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Low-wage workers often feel at risk in their workplaces, accepting working conditions that they know are bad because speaking up comes at too great a cost
  • Low wages are compounded by other issues that affect workers’ overall earnings — the inability to get full-time hours even if they want them, while others are compelled to work hours without pay under pressure from the individuals they work for

The Shriver Center calls on policymakers to shape the future of work to increase racial equity and protect low-wage workers from harm. Key recommendations include:

  • Provide paid time off for all Illinois workers, with a guaranteed minimum of paid vacation and sick days
  • Ensure that all workers have access to paid family and medical leave
  • Provide all workers with portable benefits, which are connected to an individual worker, rather than a particular employer, so they can be taken from job to job without interruption in coverage or loss of funding
  • Implement a permanent guaranteed income program in Illinois
  • Require “just cause” to terminate a worker

“Government should do more to ensure that everyone who pays taxes, including immigrants like myself, have access to essential resources and protections on the job,” said Diego, a day laborer and one of the workers interviewed.

The Shriver Center was supported by the following worker centers in organizing focus groups of low-wage workers: Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment (AFIRE); Arise Chicago; Chicago Workers Collaborative; Latino Union of Chicago; The People’s Lobby; and Warehouse Workers for Justice.

Visit the Shriver Center website for the full report.


About Shriver Center on Poverty Law

The Shriver Center on Poverty Law fights for economic and racial justice. Over our 50-year history, we have secured hundreds of victories with and for people living in poverty in Illinois and across the country. Today, we litigate, shape policy, and train and convene multi-state networks of lawyers, community leaders and activists nationwide. Together, we are building a future where all people have equal dignity, respect and power under the law. Join the fight at

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