Handling Hardship: Data on Economic Insecurity Among Amazon Warehouse Workers

Portside Date:
Author: Sanjay Pinto, Beth Gutelius
Date of source:
Center for Urban Economic Development - University of Illinois, Chicago

For Immediate Release

Press Contact: cued@uic.edu

(Chicago, IL) – Today, the Center for Urban Economic Development (CUED) at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) released a new report detailing the results of a survey of 1,484 Amazon workers across 451 facilities in 42 states—the largest nationwide study of Amazon workers to date. The report shows that roughly half of Amazon’s frontline warehouse workers are struggling with food and housing insecurity and being able to pay their bills, with one-third relying on different kinds of public assistance programs.

“This research indicates just how far the goalposts have shifted. It used to be the case that big, leading firms in the economy provided a path to the middle class and relative economic security,” said Dr. Sanjay Pinto, senior fellow at CUED and co-author of the report. “Our data indicate that roughly half of Amazon’s frontline warehouse workers are struggling with food and housing insecurity and being able to pay their bills. That’s not what economic security looks like.”

“The findings we report are the first we know of to show an association between the company’s health and safety issues and experiences of economic insecurity among its workforce,” said Dr. Beth Gutelius, research director at CUED and co-author of the report. “Workers having to take unpaid time off due to pain or exhaustion are far more likely to experience food and housing insecurity, and difficulty paying their bills.”

Key findings include:

Today’s report reflects findings of the second part of this worker survey; the first part of the survey and its findings were released in a report last fall, which found:

“The hourly pay at Amazon is not enough for the backbreaking work ... For the hard work we do and the money Amazon makes, every associate should make a livable wage,” said Linda Howard, who has worked at Amazon for 6 years in the ATL6 facility outside of Atlanta.

“Many Amazon associates cannot pay their bills, they can’t afford proper housing — some of my coworkers have been forced out of their homes. We are stuck in a nightmare: Living in an economy that puts no cap on worker exploitation, while our wages can’t keep up with the increase in our cost of living. This cycle has to stop.”

While the researchers’ previous report highlighted the relationship between invasive surveillance and high injury rates at Amazon warehouse, this report connects Amazon’s worker injury crisis to the economic precarity they face. The report concludes: “The higher levels of economic insecurity reported by workers having to take unpaid time off from work due to pain or exhaustion also point to a worrying relationship between financial strain and the injury toll documented in our previous report.”

“The economic impact of taking unpaid time off is a hidden cost of working for Amazon that, until now, has not been accounted for fully in discussions about compensation at the company. As the previous report suggested, the magnitude of the health toll reported by Amazon warehouse workers should raise concerns both about take-home pay in the immediate term and potential long-term effects on well-being, medical costs, and future employment.”

Download the full report.

Dr. Sanjay Pinto, is a senior fellow at CUED and co-author of the report. Dr. Beth Gutelius, is research director at CUED and co-author of the report.

Since 1978, the Center for Urban Economic Development (CUED) has conducted research on a broad range of issues shaping the trajectories of local and regional economies. CUED's mission is to improve development outcomes and expand economic opportunity, and we strive to achieve our mission in three principal ways. First, CUED conducts original research on employment, economic restructuring, community development, and public policy. Second, CUED works in partnership with community-based organizations, labor unions, advocacy coalitions, state and local governments, and policy think tanks to devise development strategies. Such strategies require research on job access, job quality, business
strategies and outcomes, the role of public policy, and the impacts of development on neighborhoods. Third, through specially constructed models of technical assistance to project partners, CUED enters into long-term relationships with organizations to conduct strategic research, to evaluate community and workforce development programs and strategies, and to translate lessons from practice into public policy.

CUED is a unit of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Source URL: https://portside.org/2024-05-19/handling-hardship-data-economic-insecurity-among-amazon-warehouse-workers