COVID-19

Millions of Americans are waiting for their jobs to come back. They might not.

Mitchell Hartman May 29, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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A boarded-up restaurant in San Francisco. Many layoffs that were believed to be temporary may become permanent, especially those involving higher-cost workers. Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Millions of Americans are waiting for their jobs to come back. They might not.

Mitchell Hartman May 29, 2020
A boarded-up restaurant in San Francisco. Many layoffs that were believed to be temporary may become permanent, especially those involving higher-cost workers. Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

More than 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment since mid-March. That’s about 1 in 4 workers who had a job before the pandemic hit.

Most of those people who were laid off back in April told the Labor Department that they considered their layoffs “temporary” — that they’d been furloughed and would be back at work at some point.

But “some point” seems to be dragging on for some of them, and coming back from layoffs might not happen at all.

A lot of jobs aren’t coming back yet because a lot of businesses may never come back. 

Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global, cites a survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in April that found about a quarter of business owners worried their companies wouldn’t survive more than two months.

“That would mean that jobs that were waiting for those temporarily unemployed won’t be there,” Bovino said.

And with unemployment already in the double digits, “right now is a particularly tough time to job search because hiring has slowed across the economy overall,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab.

Even in some formerly booming sectors.

Sanjay Khandelwal is 54 and he’s worked in high-tech finance jobs. He has two kids in college and a big Silicon Valley mortgage to cover. 

“I was actually told I was going to be laid off [at the] end of February,” Khandelwal said. “I reached out very quickly to my network.”

He got one interview, then a follow-up.

“And they all seemed to go really well. And then I got email saying, hey, with everything going on, we’ve just kind of put it on hold,” he said.

After that, crickets.

“I don’t see the job market rebounding very quickly,” Khandelwal said. “As it comes back, I do think it’s going to be more difficult for experienced and more expensive workers like me.”

Meanwhile, the sectors that are hiring now are offering lower-skilled, lower-paid jobs. 

“E-commerce, delivery, supermarkets — these are all industries where demand has even increased during the crisis,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist and data scientist at Glassdoor.

Some workers are coming back from layoff as restaurants, construction sites and stores reopen. 

Darius Windley was laid off in April from a restaurant in eastern Nebraska. Then, the owner got a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan and reopened.

“And so she called me. I think there was only two employees out of seven that were willing to come back, so I went back to work,” Windley said, adding that most of his former coworkers were concerned about getting sick. 

And online hiring sites report that searches for jobs that can be done remotely have spiked as the pandemic has dragged on.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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