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COVID-19

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

Mitchell Hartman May 29, 2020
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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
Heard on:
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

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

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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