UCLA Labor Center

Working Under COVID-19: Experiences of Nail Salon Workers in California, New York, Pennsylvania & New Jersey


2022 / Preeti Sharma, Lucy Gonzalez, Lucero Herrera, Saba Waheed, Lisa Fu, Dung Nguyen, Tony Nguyen, Prarthana Gurung, Pabitra Dash, Nancy Nguyen, and Emily Tran

The COVID-19 pandemic has destabilized the nail salon industry in the U.S. Made up of mostly Asian immigrant women, nail salons in the U.S. are predominantly small businesses, and closures have uniquely devastated both workers and owners. Issues concerning labor, health, and safety have only intensified since the pandemic’s start.

Working Under COVID-19: Experiences of Nail Salon Workers in California, New York, Pennsylvania & New Jersey captures national trends in the nail salon sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. Launched in partnership with Adhikaar for Human Rights & Social Justice, the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative (CHNSC), and VietLead, this brief compiles surveys, interviews, and focus groups from the four states with the most nail salons: California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.

Among other findings, the brief notes:

  • Nail salon workers returned to a sector with reduced employment. Workers in California (70%) and Philadelphia and South Jersey (66%) reported that their salon reopened with 5 or less employees. In New York, about half reopened with 5 or less.
  • All the regions reported a decline in work. In New York, 80% of workers worked reduced hours. Three quarters of California workers found that business was slow since reopening.
  • Workers overwhelmingly did not receive hazard pay in the pandemic in California (95%) and Philadelphia and South Jersey (96%).
  • Earnings stayed the same or decreased in all regions since reopening. 8-in-10 workers’ pay decreased in California. Workers also found themselves financially insecure or uncertain about their ability to pay for food in California (63%) and in Philadelphia and South Jersey (55%).

Authors recommend:

  • Providing recovery-related short-term relief and long-term solutions for nail salon workers and the industry as they continue to bear the long-term effects of the pandemic.
  • Ensuring that strong worker protections are in place as the industry continues to recover from COVID-19.
  • Supporting policies and initiatives for language justice in the nail salon sector.
  • Conducting further participatory research on the impact of COVID-19 as the industry adapts.
  • Promoting systemic change to address anti-Asian racism through comprehensive strategies including prevention, education, and services that center healing, safety, and racial solidarity.

Related Reports:

Reopening During COVID-19: The Experience of Nail Salon Workers and Owners in California
Nail Files: A Study of Nail Salon Workers and Industry in the United States
A Survey of Nail Salon Workers and Owners in California During COVID-19

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