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COVID-19

How many furloughed workers will return to their jobs? Many are optimistic

Kristin Schwab May 11, 2020
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A temporarily closed restaurant in Chicago. Eateries and tourism may lag some other industries in reopening. Scott Olson/Getty Images
COVID-19

How many furloughed workers will return to their jobs? Many are optimistic

Kristin Schwab May 11, 2020
Heard on:
A temporarily closed restaurant in Chicago. Eateries and tourism may lag some other industries in reopening. Scott Olson/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Not long before stay-at-home orders were put in place, Savannah Jordan started a dream job as a guest relations manager at a new upscale restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona. Then, three days before the restaurant’s grand opening, she was furloughed. “I was upset only because I was so excited to open up the restaurant and get started,” she said.

She’s collecting unemployment, but she loves her job and isn’t looking for a new one. Also, she’s seeing states start to open up. “I’m in full confidence that we’ll open up soon, and once we do we’ll be extremely busy,” she said.

The most recent jobs report was grim: more than 20 million people lost their jobs in April. But one piece of light in the dark is that 78% of people who lost their jobs last month say they were temporarily laid off.

And it seems like many of them are feeling positive. A recent poll by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago says 78% of people in households where someone has been laid off think there is a chance they’ll go back to work

Matt Notowidigdo at Northwestern University feels that’s a little optimistic, but not far from the reality — at least for now. “Every month that you say you’re on layoff temporarily, there’s a chance that becomes permanent,” he said.

Some industries will have an easier time rehiring, like health care and construction — jobs that are public necessities or where it’s easier to follow social-distancing rules. 

Restaurants and tourism will be shakier, but they might need to bring people back to take on slightly different jobs. “Part of the story is that they’re going to need people to pursue the social distancing,” said Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

In the meantime, the confidence most furloughed workers are showing is good. It’s what could actually save us from a longer downturn. When people believe they still have jobs waiting for them, they continue to spend money. And that keeps the economy going.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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