Economic Insecurity

What are the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on low-wage workers and other vulnerable communities?

Movement Advancement Project
5 min readApr 7, 2020


The public health threat of COVID-19 has shown us now, more than ever, the importance of mutual aid and community care. As part of our commitment to speed equality and opportunity for all, MAP will be publishing a series of posts that advance the conversation around vulnerable communities who may be particularly at risk to the effects of the virus and the economic downturn. In the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic that affects us all, this series will shed light on the particular challenges facing all of our communities, as well as resources from partners and allied organizations to support you through the pandemic.

As physical distancing has become the practice recommended — even mandated — by public health and government officials to stop the spread of COVID-19, essential operations like grocery stores, public transit, and hospitals are still operating under the pandemic, employing thousands of low-wage workers. From cashiers at grocery stores to workers in delivery and food service, people working in these jobs are especially vulnerable because they inherently have interactions with other people. What’s more, these workers are less likely to receive health insurance or paid leave through their employers, while also struggling to make ends meet for themselves and their families.

Source: National Women’s Law Center, When Hard Work Is Not Enough: Women in Low-Paid Jobs, 2020

Women perform the vast majority of these undervalued and underpaid jobs — such as childcare workers, home health and personal care aides, and food service workers — in every state across the country. According to a new report by the National Women’s Law Center, women represent nearly two-thirds of the 22.2 million workers in the 40 lowest-paying jobs, with women of color disproportionately represented. Women of color and their families also face significantly higher barriers to economic security: even when working full-time in low-paid work, more than one in five (21%) women of color who are mothers had incomes below the poverty line, and nearly three in five (58%) had incomes below twice the poverty line. Out of all mothers in the low-paid workforce, 69% are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families.

Economic data on LGBTQ people, including women, also paint a bleak picture of their livelihoods as the COVID-19 crisis continues. LGBTQ people and their families are more likely to struggle economically, experiencing higher rates of poverty and food insecurity:

  • According to the William Institute, LGBTQ people collectively have a higher poverty rate than cisgender straight people. Lesbian women have similar rates of poverty to straight cisgender women, but both have higher rates than both gay and straight cisgender men. What’s more, transgender people are hit especially hard with a staggering poverty rate of 29.4%, and in both rural and urban areas, transgender people face higher economic insecurity:
Source: MAP, Where We Call Home: Transgender People in Rural America, 2019
  • 25% of LGBTQ adults have annual incomes less than $24,000.
  • For LGBTQ people of color, poverty rates are particularly high:
Source: MAP, Where We Call Home: Transgender People in Rural America, 2019

Unemployment & the CARES Act

Now, many who depended on low-wage work for economic security have lost their jobs entirely. Nearly 10 million people applied for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks alone. These include the majority of women in low-paying service jobs, like restaurant work, which have faced devastating lay-offs in the past two months.

LGBTQ people are more likely to work in jobs in industries highly affected by the pandemic. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 40% of LGBTQ adults work in the following five industries, in comparison to 22% of non-LGBTQ people:

  • 2 million LGBTQ workers in restaurants and food services
  • 1 million in hospitals
  • Nearly 1 million in K-12 education
  • Nearly 1 million in colleges and universities
  • Half a million in retail

With a majority of states issuing orders to suspend all dine-in services at restaurants and bars, and retail stores suspending operations, workers in these industries have been hit particularly hard.

On March 27, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2.2 trillion package that includes direct financial assistance to families, additional unemployment support, and an investment in programs and services to address the impending fiscal crises. According to the Williams Institute, 6.4 million single LGBTQ adults with an annual income of up to $75,000 will receive the full payout of $1,200, and the 292,000 LGBTQ adults who filed for unemployment benefits will receive $600 in additional unemployment benefits per week of unemployment. Learn how to file for unemployment benefits in your state.

While the CARES Act is a step in the right direction to alleviate the economic impact COVID-19 will have on vulnerable populations like women and LGBTQ people, additional steps must be taken to expand health care access, support immigrants, and to further help families access programs like food assistance and more.

Take Action

If you are able, here are a few ways you can have a major impact on your local economy and support low-wage workers:

  • If you used services like housecleaning or have a monthly membership at a gym, consider continuing paying your service provider. They are being severely impacted by the loss of work.
  • If you had to cancel an appointment or service from someone working in the gig economy, pay what you can through mobile payment services like Venmo or Cash App.
  • Support local businesses by ordering online or buying gift certificates for future use.
  • Tell Congress we need the PAID Leave Act in the next COVID-19 relief package: add your name to the MomsRising petition.



Movement Advancement Project

MAP is an independent, nonprofit think tank that provides rigorous research, insight and communications that help speed equality and opportunity for all.