COVID-19 is Creating More Employee Chutes than Ladders

COVID-19 is Creating More Employee Chutes than Ladders

I wish I were having as much fun as they are, Moira thought, as she watched her four-year-old twin girls play a round of Chutes and Ladders at the kitchen table while their school was closed due to the Coronavirus. “Come play with us, Mommy!” Joya said, but Moira shook her head. She was too distracted. Payday was five days away, her rent was due in four, and her hours had just been reduced. She’d checked her account and knew there was no way she was going to be able to pay her landlord on time. Another $75 fee, Moira thought.

Then Joya landed on a chute. “Oh, man,” she said, as she dragged her piece almost all the way back to the start. “I’ll never get ahead!” Moira knew how she felt. My life already seemed full of more chutes than ladders, she thought. What’s going to happen now?

Too Many Chutes

For Moira, there were so many chutes before the healthcare crisis. Now there would be more. None was good. But some would be brutal.

The $75 late-rent fee meant trouble, but she would need cash for the babysitter since school was closed and she needed to show up at the nursing home to get paid. That meant she’d also be late paying her electric bill. Would they waive her late fee? She had no idea. But Moira had an even bigger problem: her car didn’t start this morning. Moira couldn’t afford to miss any more days; her PTO account was down to zero again because of that vile flu her daughter had caught in January. She could go to a payday lender for cash to cover all these expenses, but a high-interest loan was going to bury her in the long-run.  The combination of these unexpected expenses were extra-long slides that carried her further than ever from anything resembling a finish line. God forbid she became ill herself. She dared not think about it.

Not Enough Ladders

Why aren’t there more ladders? Moira thought. She was grateful for the ones she’d found, like her recent promotion to supervisor in Environmental Services, and the $15 an hour that came with it. Moira had also found a tiny but clean apartment only a few miles’ drive from her parents’ place, where, prior to the outbreak, Joya and Macy played with Nana each afternoon after preschool.

Moira felt blessed for a while, but now the ladders she had access to still seemed vastly outnumbered by chutes. Surprise chutes like Joya and Macy outgrowing their boots twice this winter. Or predictable chutes like when she paid rent on the first of the month to avoid a late fee, knowing she’d have to miss the phone payment instead and suffer a lesser late fee for that. Sometimes, Moira could see the ladders—including payday—ahead, but she couldn’t always reach them in time. Now it seemed that the world was on fire. She just couldn’t win.

Leveling the Playing Field

How did I get here? Moira wondered. Did I pick the wrong job? Do I not work hard enough?

On the contrary, Moira worked hard every day, and she was good at her job; she got excellent results from her team. The problem wasn’t Moira. The problem was that the game was rigged against her: there were many chutes but few ladders. Now, the spreading virus was opening up the ground, revealing hidden chutes everywhere.

Surely, Moira thought, we could redesign this game and add more ladders. What if she could get her pay as she earned it rather than having to wait two weeks for payday, for instance? That would be a great ladder; quicker access to her money would help her get—and stay—ahead. And why couldn’t it work? Moira could pay bills instantly from her phone, after all. Why couldn’t the nursing home pay her instantly for the hours she’d worked? Moira did the math: so far this pay period, she’d worked forty hours and earned over $500 in wages. If the nursing home paid her even part of those wages now, she’d be able to pay rent without incurring any interest or fees and still have money for the babysitter. She could stop losing ground.

A New Game Plan

Moira wasn’t the only one thinking about changing the game. Thaty afternoon, she took an Uber to work, and upon arriving, checked her mailbox. Beneath a pamphlet on hand-washing she found an announcement about a benefit called PayActiv. Now she and her coworkers would be able to access a portion of their wages as they earned them. Payroll Services was building a new ladder. And with the PayActiv app on her phone, she would have a ladder she could carry with her. 

Moira learned she could also use PayActiv to avoid chutes. No more overdraft fees, late fees, and high-interest loans that had cost her so much money and so much time—time she would rather spend drinking hot chocolate and playing games with her children.

Moira also discovered that with PayActiv, she’d have access to resources like a fee-free debit card, an Uber benefit, and financial planning tools. Wow, Moira thought, the game is truly about to change.

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