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Low-wage service workers are facing new emotional hazards in the workplace during COVID-19

Low-wage service workers are facing new emotional hazards in the workplace during COVID-19

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Service workers are often tasked with enforcing company mask and social distancing policies. AP Photo/Nati Harnik

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The big idea

Low-wage service workers increasingly are facing new physical and emotional hazards in the workplace as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to interviews with workers we conducted in April. We found that in addition to being afraid and anxious about their own health and possible exposure to COVID-19 while working, these employees said dealing with unpredictable customer emotions was taking an additional toll.

The workers we spoke with reported that interactions with customers were becoming emotionally charged over issues such as mask requirements and other safety guidelines. Workers of color said they were experiencing increased racial harassment.

Exposure to these emotional hazards was widespread among the workers we interviewed and was also spilling over into their home lives. A grocery worker with underlying health conditions told us her son “was super worried, like borderline tears, because he didn’t want me to go [to work] because he knows it’s not safe. And I felt horrible because I didn’t want to go, but I knew that I had to.”

Why it matters

As states and businesses try to reopen with a mix of safety guidelines and protocols, workers have often been on the front lines of enforcing health measures such as requiring customers to wear a mask or maintain social distancing. Some customers have even turned violent, which adds a threat of physical harm to workers who are already disproportionately exposed to a lethal virus.

The experiences of the workers in our study, most of whom worked throughout the shutdown, reveal the need for government and companies to address these new emotional hazards and protect them from customer harassment. Without clear governmental safety mandates, for example, workers easily become the targets of harassment as they tried to enforce their companies’ policies. Workers also said their companies often had weak enforcement mechanisms, frequently adjusted their policies and didn’t provide support in dealing with intense interactions with customers.

What’s next

These results are part of a series of ongoing studies we’re conducting with essential workers in a variety of roles, such as home care and food processing, to examine how they are navigating these new emotional risks during the pandemic. We are also looking at efforts by workers to organize to demand better protections and how these challenges are affecting their families.

How we do our work

As a team of sociologists at the University of Oregon, we rely on rich qualitative data from in-depth interviews, focus groups and participant observation. Our results here come from interviewing dozens of workers in Oregon’s hospitality, retail and food services industries whom we first met in 2019 as a part of an ongoing longitudinal study.

Lola Loustaunau and this research team has received funding from the Ford Foundation, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, the United Association for Labor Education, the University of Oregon Sociology, and the University of Oregon Labor Education and Research Center.

Ellen Scott receives funding from UFCW555, UALE, the Ford Foundation, and the University of Oregon.

Larissa Petrucci receives funding from Ford Foundation, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, United Association for Labor Education, University of Oregon Sociology and University of Oregon Labor Education and Research Center.

Lina Stepick and this research team has received funding from the Ford Foundation, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, the United Association for Labor Education, the University of Oregon Sociology, and the University of Oregon Labor Education and Research Center.

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International

Revenge travel is coming to an end, says industry CEO — a recession will replace it

The CEO of Intercontinental Hotels Group says that the world has moved beyond revenge travel–even China.

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Maybe revenge isn't so sweet anymore. Not so long ago the term "revenge travel" was making the rounds. The idea was that people were so fed up with the covid-19 pandemic lockdown that they packed their bags and took off for just about anywhere once travel restrictions started to ease.

Related: Delta adds a route U.S. tourists have been begging for

Last year, travel insurance company Allianz Partners projected that travel to Europe would soar 600% over 2021. “The pandemic made people realize you can't take travel for granted and many Americans are eager to visit Europe this summer,” Daniel Durazo, director of external communications at Allianz Partners USA, said in an April 2022 statement.

'Last stage of pent-up demand'

The Summer of '23 was also pretty strong, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which found that almost a third, or 32.8%, of all U.S. households took a vacation between May and August, up from 28.5% in August 2022 and a record high in data going back to 2015. However, it looks like the revenge travel upswing is coming to an end. The Federal Reserve's Beige Book said in September that consumer spending on tourism was stronger than expected, "surging during what most contacts considered the last stage of pent-up demand for leisure travel from the pandemic era." Elie Maalouf also thinks that the revenge travel dish has gone cold. The CEO of Intercontinental Hotels Group  (IHG) - Get Free Report said in an interview with CNBC that he believes pent-up demand is over. "People started traveling really by the end of 2020 as restrictions started to lift,” he said. “So we’re really past revenge travel — even in China.” Intercontinental Hotel Group operates hotels under several brand names, including Regent, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Club Vacations, and Candlewood Suites. The company’s latest quarterly update showed travel demand remained strong during the close of the summer travel season. “We think we’re in a sustainable place,” Maalouf said. “Our bookings for groups and meetings going into 2024 and beyond are the strongest we’ve seen in a very long time.”

Average room rates increase

IHG’s third quarter trading update showed the company’s revenue per available room — or “revpar” — was up 10.5% compared to third quarter 2022, and nearly 13% higher compared with the third quarter of 2019, which was before the pandemic. This is despite a 3% drop in revpar, compared to 2019, in large cities in Greater China, which are more dependent on international travelers. Maalouf said that lack of “airlift,” or flight capacity, into China is below 50% of prepandemic levels, which is affecting travel recovery in cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. “But if you look at the country as a whole, travel — which is mostly domestic in China — it’s recovered well above 2019,” he said, adding that more than 80% of IHG’s business in China is in mid-sized to smaller cities. Occupancy levels in the third quarter at IHG hotels was 72% — just 1% shy of pre-pandemic levels, according to the quarterly update. But average room rates have jumped well above 2019 levels — up nearly 6% in Greater China, 15% in the Americas, and 24% in Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) and Asia. But rising rates are barely keeping up with inflation, said Maalouf. “Room rates have not really exceeded inflation in any of our markets,” he said. “I think people’s willingness to travel is exhibited by the fact they’re willing to pay.” Get investment guidance from trusted portfolio managers without the management fees. Sign up for Action Alerts PLUS now.

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Spread & Containment

Las Vegas Strip faces growing bed bug problem

With huge events including Formula 1, CES, and the Super Bowl looming, the Las Vegas Strip faces an issue that could be a major cause for concern.

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Las Vegas beat the covid pandemic.

It wasn't that long ago when the Las Vegas Strip went dark and people questioned whether Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts, and other Strip players would emerge from the crisis intact. 

Related: Las Vegas Strip report shares surprising F1 race news

In the darkest days, the entire Las Vegas Strip was closed down and when it reopened, it was not business as usual. Caesars Entertainment (CZR) - Get Free Report and MGM reopened slowly with all sorts of government-mandated restrictions in place.

The first months of the Strip's comeback featured temperature checks, a lot of plexiglass, gaming tables with limited numbers of players, masks, and social distancing. It was an odd mix of celebration and restraint as people were happy to be in Las Vegas, but the Strip was oddly empty, some casinos remained closed, and gaming floors were sparsely filled. 

When vaccines became available, the Las Vegas Strip benefitted quickly. Business and international travelers were slow to return, but leisure travelers began bringing crowds back to pre-pandemic levels. 

The comeback, however, was very fragile. CES 2022 was supposed to be Las Vegas's return to normal, the first major convention since covid. In reality, surging cases of the covid omicron variant caused most major companies to pull out.

Even with vaccines and covid tests required, an event that was supposed to be close to normal, ended up with 25% of 2020's pre-covid attendance. That CES showed just how quickly public sentiment — not actual danger — can ruin an event in Las Vegas.

Now, with November's Formula 1 Race, CES in January, and the Super Bowl in February all slated for Las Vegas, a rising health crisis threatens all of those events.

The Arena Media Brands, LLC and respective content providers to this website may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.

Covid left Las Vegas casinos empty for months.

Image source: Palms Casino

The Las Vegas Strip has a bed bug problem   

While bed bugs may not be as dangerous as covid, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV),  Legionnaires’ disease, and some of the other infectious diseases that the Las Vegas Strip has faced over the past few years, they're still problematic. Bed bugs spread easily and a small infestation can become a large one quickly.

The sores caused by bed bugs are also a social media nightmare for the Las Vegas Strip. If even a few Las Vegas Strip visitors wake up covered in bed bug bites, that could become a viral nightmare for the entire city.

In late-August, reports came out the bed bugs had been at seven Las Vegas hotel, mostly on the Strip over the past two years. The impacted properties includes Caesars Planet Hollywood and Caesars Palace as well as MGM Resort International's (MGM) - Get Free Report MGM Grand, and others including Circus Circus, The Palazzo, Tropicana, and Sahara.

VISIT LAS VEGAS: Are you ready to plan your dream Las Vegas Strip getaway?

"Now, that number is nine with the addition of The Venetian and Park MGM. According to the health department report, a Venetian guest reported seeing the bloodsuckers on July 29 and was moved to another room. An inspection three days later confirmed their presence," Casino.org reported.

The Park MGM bed bug incident took place on Aug. 14.

Bed bugs remain a Las Vegas Strip problem

Only Tropicana, which is soon going to be demolished, and Sahara, responded to Casino.org about their bed bug issues. Caesars and MGM have not commented publicly or responded to requests from KLAS or Casino.org.

That makes sense because the resorts do not want news to spread about potential bed bug problems when the actual incidents have so far been minimal. The problem is that unreported bed bug issues can rapidly snowball.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shares some guidelines on bed bug bites on its website that hint at the depth of the problem facing Las Vegas Strip resorts.

"Regularly wash and heat-dry your bed sheets, blankets, bedspreads and any clothing that touches the floor. This reduces the number of bed bugs. Bed bugs and their eggs can hide in laundry containers/hampers. Remember to clean them when you do the laundry," the agency shared.

Normally, that would not be an issue in Las Vegas as rooms are cleaned daily. Since the covid pandemic, however, some people have opted out of daily cleaning and some resorts have encouraged that.

F1? SUPER BOWL? MARCH MADNESS? Plan a dream Las Vegas getaway.

Not having daily room cleaning in just a few rooms could lead to quick spread.

"Bed bugs spread so easily and so quickly, that the University of Kentucky's entomology department notes that "it often seems that bed bugs arise from nowhere."

"Once bed bugs are introduced, they can crawl from room to room, or floor to floor via cracks and openings in walls, floors and ceilings," warned the University's researchers.  

 

       

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International

Americans are having a tough time repaying pandemic-era loans received with inflated credit scores

Borrowers are realizing the responsibility of new debts too late.

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With the economy of the United States at a standstill during the Covid-19 pandemic, the efforts to stimulate the economy brought many opportunities to people who may have not had them otherwise. 

However, the extension of these opportunities to those who took advantage of the times has had its consequences.

Related: American Express reveals record profits, 'robust' spending in Q3 earnings report

Credit Crunch

GLASTONBURY, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 12: In this photo illustration the Visa, Mastercard and American Express logos are seen on credit and debit cards on March 14, 2022 in Somerset, England. Visa, American Express and Mastercard have all announced they are suspending operations in Russia and credit and debit cards issued by Russian banks will no longer work outside of the country. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Matt Cardy/Getty Images

A report by the Financial Times states that borrowers in the United States that took advantage of lending opportunities during the Covid-19 pandemic are falling behind on actually paying back their debt.

At a time when stimulus checks were handed out and loan repayments were frozen to help those affected by the economic shock of Covid-19, many consumers in the States saw that lenders became more willing to provide consumer credit.

According to a report by credit reporting agency TransUnion, the median consumer credit score jumped 20% to a peak of 676 in the first quarter of 2021, allowing many to finally have “good” credit scores. However, their data also showed that those who took out loans and credit from 2021 to early 2023 are having an hard time managing these debts.

“Consumer finance companies used this opportunity to juice up their growth at a time when funding was ample and consumers’ finances had gotten an artificial boost,” Chief economist of Moody’s Analytics Mark Zandi told FT. “Certainly a lot of lower-income households that got caught up in all of this will feel financial pain.”

Moody’s data shows that new credit cards accounts that were opened in the first quarter of 2023 have a 4% delinquency rate, while the same rate in September 2022 was 4.5%. According to the analysts, these levels were the highest for the same point of the year since 2008.

Additionally, a study by credit scoring company VantageScore found that credit cards issued in March 2022 had higher delinquency rates than cards issued at the same time during the prior four years.

More Investing:

Credit cards were not the only debts that American consumers took on. As per S&P Global Ratings data, riskier car loans taken on during the height of the pandemic have more repayment problems than in previous years. In 2022, subprime borrowers were becoming delinquent on new cars loans at twice the rate of pre-pandemic levels.

S&P auto loan tracker Amy Martin told FT that lenders during the pandemic were “rather aggressive” in terms of signing new loans.

Bill Moreland of research group BankRegData has warned about these rising delinquencies in the past and had recently estimated that by late 2022, there were hundreds of billions of dollars in what he calls “excess lending based upon artificially inflated credit scores”.

The Government's Role

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 29: U.S. President Donald Trump's name appears on the coronavirus economic assistance checks that were sent to citizens across the country April 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. The initial 88 million payments totaling nearly $158 billion were sent by the Treasury Department last week as most of the country remains under stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Because so many are failing to pay their bills, many are wary that the government assistance may have been a financial double-edged sword; as they were meant to alleviate financial stress during lockdown, while it led some of them to financial difficulty.

The $2.2 trillion Cares Act federal aid package passed in the early stages of the pandemic not only put cash in the American consumer’s pocket, but also protected borrowers from foreclosure, default and in some instances, lenders were barred from reporting late payments to credit bureaus.

Yeshiva University law professor Pam Foohey specializes in consumer bankruptcy and believes that the Cares Act was good policy, however she shifts the blame away from the consumers and borrowers.

“I fault lenders and the market structure for not having a longer-term perspective. That’s not something that the Cares Act should have solved and it still exists and still needs to be addressed.”

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