"History offers a precedent for plagues being, perversely, good for workers. Collective anger at low wages and poor working protections can produce lasting social change, and people tend to be more supportive of government benefits during periods of high unemployment. One study that looked at 15 major pandemics found that they increased wages for three decades afterward. The Plague of Justinian, in 541, led to worker incomes doubling. After the Black Death demolished Europe in the 1300s, textile workers in northern France received three raises in a year. Old rules were upended: Workers started wearing red, a color previously associated with nobility."
Although the coronavirus appears to be hurting them the most, there's hope the pandemic could dramatically improve working conditions for low-income workers in the U.S., The Atlantic's Olga Khazan argues. In this piece, Khazan talks with experts on sociology and politics of class, who note how historically, pandemics have led to increased wages, stronger legislation protecting workers, and more benefits for lower-paid workers. Given grocery store employees and other low-income individuals are amongst those suffering the most in the U.S., Khazan argues the potential for backlash is strong. This, could, in turn, fuel the kind of protests that have led to lasting changes throughout the centuries.