The pre-COVID economy was rife with inequality. Many of Wisconsin’s workers occupied low-paying positions with marginal benefits, many of them in front-line jobs ranging from food-service to healthcare.

For many of these workers, the pandemic was the final straw that crumbled an already cracking foundation. While the jobless numbers and horror stories of poverty are more evident than before, the pandemic didn’t create them, it just accelerated many workers’ paths to the same end.

Labor Day, which normally marks a celebration of work accomplished, and a much needed rest from that work, is a holiday that rings empty this year. For many Wisconsin workers, it’s a solemn reminder of the state of this COVID economy, a state that could have been averted if the economy that preceded it were any better.

From reporting via Wisconsin Examiner, many key insights can be gleaned from a recent roundtable discussion that was streamed to Facebook live. It was hosted by COWS, a University of Wisconsin-based economic research center, and featured many knowledgeable voices who can speak to the issues at hand.

According to Laura Dresser, associate director of COWS, “Work has changed in dramatic and fundamental ways for many, many people. But one of the things that we continue to observe that is that it has changed in ways that were entirely predictable — because of the way work was before COVID.”

Another voice in the online discussion, Anthony Steward, is a former cook at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum basketball arena and a current father of two. He lost his job when the pandemic hit, and according to the Examiner, “at the end of July his unemployment compensation was cut down to one-third the amount it had been. Now, he says, he looks for ways ‘to keep my family afloat’ until his regular job returns.”

It’s not an easy reality for many workers here in Wisconsin. If there’s a common theme that emerges from their stories, it’s that our economy was already on the brink when the crisis arrived, and the more we try to plug the holes in this pandemic, the more obvious that becomes.

You can read many more stories from a variety of integral voices to this issue here.