COVID-19

Crisis cuts many workers’ hours, extends workday for some

Meghan McCarty Carino May 6, 2020
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An employee restocks milk at a grocery store. Some businesses are seeing strong demand during the pandemic and increasing staff hours. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
COVID-19

Crisis cuts many workers’ hours, extends workday for some

Meghan McCarty Carino May 6, 2020
An employee restocks milk at a grocery store. Some businesses are seeing strong demand during the pandemic and increasing staff hours. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Share Now on:
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The pandemic is hitting American workers hard — every day there’s more bad news about layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts. A new Marketplace Edison Research Poll showed that among those who are still employed, more than a third have had their hours cut. But 16% are actually working more hours than before.

Houston electrician Mike Cargill is one of them. Home electricity usage has surged during the lockdown, and so has his pay.

“Because people are at home watching TV or plugging their laptop in different areas to work from home and realizing, ‘Oh my goodness, this outlet doesn’t work,’ ” he said.

Meanwhile, his fiancee, who works in marketing, and his dad, who consults in the oil fields, are out of work. “It is definitely strange,” Cargill said.

Every recession has winners and losers, said Julia Pollak, labor economist with job site ZipRecruiter, but the juxtapositions caused by this economic shock have been extreme.

“This is like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” she said. “Job postings have fallen 47%. At the same time, it has caused sales and user growth to soar in some other businesses,” like grocery stores, e-commerce and pharmaceuticals.

Though big companies like Amazon and Walmart are hiring to meet increased demand, she said more businesses are simply increasing hours for existing staff.

But not all of those workers are getting paid more, said Jed Kolko, chief economist with job site Indeed.

“It’s one thing to want more hours, get more hours and get paid for it,” he said. “It’s something else entirely to have to work more hours just to get your same job done for the same pay.”

That’s the case for Carolyn Behrens, a middle-school English teacher in Richmond, Virginia, who has revamped her curriculum for remote classes and switched to more one-on-one sessions for students with learning disabilities.

“Because you’re doing things more individually, it just takes longer,” she said.

She estimates she’s working about two extra hours a day. But as an already overworked teacher, she stopped keeping track.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

When does the expanded COVID-19 unemployment insurance run out?

The CARES Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in March, authorized extra unemployment payments, increasing the amount of money, and broadening who qualifies. The increased unemployment benefits have an expiration date — an extra $600 per week the act authorized ends on July 31.

Which states are reopening?

Many states have started to relax the restrictions put in place in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. Although social-distancing measures still hold virtually everywhere in the country, more than half of states have started to phase out stay-at-home orders and phase in business reopenings. Others, like New York, are on slower timelines.

Is it worth applying for a job right now?

It never hurts to look, but as unemployment reaches levels last seen during the Great Depression and most available jobs are in places that carry risks like the supermarket or warehouses, it isn’t a bad idea to sit tight either, if you can.

You can find answers to more questions here.

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