State of Working Vermont 2021

In 2020 and 2021 the COVID-19 pandemic changed work. Parents and caregivers, mothers especially, racked up hours of unpaid labor caring for kids and overseeing schoolwork while holding down jobs. Essential workers went out to work, patched together child care, and worried about bringing illness home. These frontline workers were newly visible and respected—low-paid grocery clerks alongside higher-status health care professionals.

In March 2020, when the government declared a state of emergency and Vermont shuttered nearly all public spaces, 80,000 Vermonters were suddenly unemployed, many without income. Later, some returned to jobs and offices, but others left the labor force for good.

The slowdown gave many people time to reorder their priorities and recalibrate the balance among work, family, and other pursuits. And a labor shortage strengthened workers’ position to demand better pay and working conditions. Nationally, public support for unions grew. If the power shift is sustained, it will be one good outcome of the pandemic.

The pandemic illuminated problems Vermont already faced: policy gaps that leave families struggling to pay rent and other bills or systemic health inequities, from authorities’ neglect of language differences to the physical effects of generational trauma, that render Vermont’s Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) more vulnerable to illness and death. But the economic crisis caused by the health crisis, and the government’s robust response to it, also offered lessons that, if heeded, can improve Vermonters’ lives during both normal times and emergencies.