How US shadow banks exploited frontline workers during Covid

New York: American “shadow banks”– which are less regulated and include private credit intermediaries such as private equity, venture capital, and hedge fund firms — have invested in ways that extracts profit from the misfortunes of frontline workers, struggling companies, and distressed sectors during the Covid-19 pandemic, finds new research.

The research focused on industry reports and news media coverage of the industry to track investments made by shadow banks during the crisis as well as their investments leading up to the crisis that affected the safety and security of frontline workers when the coronavirus hit.

“We found that while the most economically vulnerable have suffered the brunt of the pandemic’s hardship, those with financial capital have profited from struggling and booming sectors alike. The work of shadow banks has contributed to growing economic and social inequality during the crisis,” said lead author Megan Tobias Neely, Assistant Professor in the Department of Organisation, Copenhagen Business School. The research is published in the American Behavioral Scientist journal.

Shadow banking has been one of the fastest growing areas of finance since deregulation in the early 1980s. The research states that shadow banks have since played a central role in shaping how executives manage companies, often placing pressure on companies to downsize their workforces and cut wages and benefits for the sake of the shareholders.

Healthcare, grocery, and distribution drivers have been some of the industries hardest hit even before this crisis. Private equity helped to create the conditions that made frontline workers vulnerable in the first place. These investors have targeted the US healthcare industry with a negative impact on hospitals, urgent care, and ambulances, the research showed.

“Private equity firms often try to quickly turnover companies and invest less, or not at all, in new technology, workers’ skills, quality improvements, and emergency equipment stockpiles like personal protective equipment. This has had the effect of increasing healthcare costs and overburdening underpaid healthcare staff,” said co-author Donna Carmichael, Researcher in Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“Women, especially women of colour, are disproportionately the workers who have been put at greatest risk during the pandemic. One-third of jobs held by women are ‘essential,’ and women compose 52 per cent of frontline workers, including nine out of ten nurses and two-thirds of grocery store and pharmacy clerks. And so, the pandemic has made women ‘essential and expendable’ at the same time,” Neely said.