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The rate at which workers suffered violations of minimum-wage law increased almost in lock step with the unemployment rate during the last recession, according to a paper released Thursday by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a liberal think tank. On average, the workers on the receiving end of these violations lost about one-fifth of their hourly wage.

The paper’s numbers show that more than 20 percent of low-wage workers were probably paid less than what the law requires in April, when the unemployment rate peaked, up from just over 10 percent before the pandemic.

There are two key reasons, beyond the obvious problem that employers are stretched thin during a recession. First, workers have fewer job options when the economy is weak, making it harder to stand up to employers that shortchange them.

In addition, labor regulators often have fewer resources to devote to enforcement during a recession, as cities and states cut their budgets.

The lack of effective regulation reverberates through entire industries, the study’s authors write: Unchecked wage theft allows unscrupulous employers to undercut their law-abiding competitors and puts pressure on those competitors to shortchange their workers as well.

Restaurant suppliers like bakeries scaled back workers’ hours and laid off many of them during the pandemic, driving workers who had made the minimum wage or more into less stable, lower-paying gigs, said Gabriel Morales, the program director for Brandworkers, a group that organizes workers in the specialty food-making industry.

“People are being pushed into even more exploitative sectors of the economy,” Mr. Morales said.

Ability to work from home

National Bureau of Economic Research

Ability to work from home

Ability to work from home

When companies dispatched office staff to work remotely from home, cut business trips and canceled business lunches, they also eliminated the jobs cleaning their offices and hotel rooms, driving them around town and serving them meals.

For this army of service workers across urban America, the pandemic risks becoming more than a short-term economic shock. If white-collar America doesn’t return to the office, service workers will be left with nobody to serve.

The worry is particularly acute in cities, which for decades have sustained tens of millions of jobs for workers without a college education. Now remote work is adding to other pressures that have stunted opportunities. The collapse of retailers like J.C. Penney and Neiman Marcus has wiped out many low-wage jobs. The implosion of tourism in cities like New York and San Francisco will end many more.

Fear is budding that even when the pandemic has passed, the economy may not provide the jobs it once did.

“Some law firms are finding that it is more productive for their lawyers to stay at home,” said Kristinia Bellamy, a janitor who was laid off from her job cleaning offices at a high-rise housing legal firms and other white-collar businesses in Midtown Manhattan. “This might be the beginning of the end for these commercial office buildings.”

Consider Nike’s decision in the spring to allow most employees at its headquarters in the Portland area to work remotely. Aramark, which runs the cafeteria and catering at Nike, furloughed many of its workers. With no need for full services anticipated “for an undefined period,” Aramark says, 378 employees — waiters, cooks, cashiers and others — now face permanent layoff on Sept. 25.

Credit…Aart-Jan Venema

After tech companies told employees to work from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, they began offering new benefits like extra time off to help workers take care of their children.

It wasn’t long before employees without children started to ask: What about us?

Daisuke Wakabayashi and Sheera Frenkel detail the friction, which is more pronounced at some technology companies, where workers tend to be younger and have come to expect generous perks and benefits in exchange for letting their jobs take over their lives.

  • At a recent companywide meeting, Facebook employees repeatedly argued that work policies created in response to Covid-19 “have primarily benefited parents.”

  • At Twitter, a fight erupted on an internal message board after a worker who didn’t have children at home accused another employee, who was taking a leave to care for a child, of not pulling his weight.

  • When Salesforce announced that it was offering parents six weeks of paid time off, most employees applauded. But one Salesforce manager, who is not permitted to talk publicly about internal matters and therefore asked not to be identified, said two childless employees, reflecting a sentiment voiced at several companies, complained that the policy seemed to put parents’ needs ahead of theirs.

Tech companies were among the first to ask employees to work from home at the start of the pandemic and to offer generous leave and additional time off once it became apparent that children would remain home from school as well.

Some employees without children say that they feel underappreciated, and that they are being asked to shoulder a heavier workload. And parents are frustrated that their childless co-workers don’t understand how hard it is to balance work and child care, especially when day care centers are closed and they are trying to help their children learn at home.

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