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COVID & Unemployment

Nearly a third of Americans worry about having their work hours cut or losing their jobs

Kimberly Adams Sep 1, 2020
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An employee at the newly reopened Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. With unemployment widespread, many people who have kept their jobs are worried about losing them. Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

Nearly a third of Americans worry about having their work hours cut or losing their jobs

Kimberly Adams Sep 1, 2020
Heard on:
An employee at the newly reopened Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. With unemployment widespread, many people who have kept their jobs are worried about losing them. Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images
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COPY

We talk a lot about what the pandemic is doing to the economy — how it’s showing up in the jobs numbers, in retail sales, bankruptcies, you name it. But there’s another part of it which is how the economy feels — how it makes us feel.

That brings us to some polling out from Gallup on Tuesday, showing 27% of people who still have jobs are worried about losing those jobs or having their hours cut back. Others are worried about pay or benefits being cut.

But are those worries justified?

If almost a third of people are worried about losing their job or having their hours cut, you have to figure the other two-thirds aren’t.

They’re like Josh Stamps, an aerospace engineer in Lakewood, Colorado.

“Even though my household is in a really good position, I’m concerned about just about everybody I know outside of my house,” he said.

Then there’s the 27% who are worried. They’re worried about what happened to Brett Hulverson in Davenport, Florida.

“To this day, I’m still looking for a job,” he said, and that’s not a situation he thought he’d ever be in.

Hulverson had steady work in the entertainment industry. Then he was furloughed, then laid off. He had plenty of time to chat about his worries as he and his wife waited in the car line at a food bank.

“This has been kind of our Tuesday ritual, if you will, for the past couple months now,” he said.

“I’ve definitely had some of these same worries and uncertainties myself, and then thinking through what, what happens if I do lose my job? Where, where do we go from there?” said Jenn Trivedi, who teaches anthropology and studies disasters at the University of Delaware.

She said her job is probably safe for now, but her worry reveals something about the way we process information.

“We think about things like risk and uncertainty,” Trivedi said. “Not only through what we experienced directly ourselves, but what we see other people, especially other people who are like us, experiencing and going through.”

And more people like us — all of us — are suffering in the pandemic.

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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