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For Some After the Storm, No Work Means No Pay

Friday, November 02, 2012

  • Organization: The New York Times
  • Source: National > National Wage and Hour Clearinghouse

Chantal Sainvilus, a home health aide in Brooklyn who makes $10 an hour, does not get paid if she does not show up. So it is no wonder that she joined the thousands of people taking extreme measures to get to work this week, even, in her case, hiking over the Williamsburg Bridge.  While salaried employees worked if they could, often from home after Hurricane Sandy, many of the poorest New Yorkers faced the prospect of losing days, even a crucial week, of pay on top of the economic ground they have lost since the recession.  Low-wage workers, more likely to be paid hourly and work at the whim of their employers, have fared worse in the recovery than those at the top of the income scale — in New York City the bottom 20 percent lost $463 in annual income from 2010 to 2011, in contrast to a gain of almost $2,000 for the top quintile. And there are an increasing number of part-time and hourly workers, the type that safety net programs like unemployment are not designed to serve. Since 2009, when the recovery began, 86 percent of the jobs added nationally have been hourly. Over all, about 60 percent of the nation’s jobs are hourly.

Even as the sluggish economy has accentuated this divide, Hurricane Sandy has acted as a further wedge, threatening to take a far greater toll on the have-littles who live from paycheck to paycheck.  “There’s a lot of people in our society that are living in a very precarious situation in terms of low wages or very insecure work,” said Arne L. Kalleberg, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of “Good Jobs, Bad Jobs.” “That’s why it’s important to have a safety net that’s based on the idea of people working insecure jobs like this.”  On Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York City and four suburban counties were eligible for disaster unemployment relief, which covers a broader spectrum of workers than regular unemployment benefits, including the self-employed like taxi drivers and street vendors as well as those who were unable to get to work.

New Jersey has also declared people in 10 counties eligible for disaster unemployment assistance. In Connecticut, residents of four counties and the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Reservation are eligible.  A New York Department of Labor spokesman emphasized that workers who lost wages should call to apply because the program is flexible and many eligibility issues would be determined on a case-by-case basis.  But the program might not help people whose commute simply lasted longer or cost more, like Ibezim Oki, a cabdriver who spent $50 on a cab to get from his Brooklyn home to Manhattan on Friday, rather than risk long bus delays, and “now I don’t know how long I’m going to have to wait for gas.”  The commute alone represented a hardship for workers whose jobs require a physical presence, while neighborhood coffee shops in the boroughs and suburbs overflowed with those who needed nothing more than a laptop and Wi-Fi to stay connected to work.  Ms. Sainvilus estimated that on Thursday, she had traveled eight hours to work for five, making her effective pay less than $4 an hour. (click on link to read full story) 

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