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What to know about the growing gap between U.S. workers affected by covid-19

August 26, 2020

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While the economy is growing, there are untold stories behind employment numbers that can easily be missed. (Photo credit: Pixabay, user skeeze)

In October 2019, when the Federal Reserve Board conducted its seventh annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED), most adults said they were in good financial health. The economy was strong and unemployment at record low levels.

But in a followup survey in April 2020, the numbers showed that low-wage U.S. workers are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost 40 percent of workers earning less than $40,000 a year lost their jobs or began working reduced hours in March 2020, compared with 19 percent of workers who earn between $40,000 and $100,000 annually.

Job training for low-wage workers will be critical to economic recovery. Business reporters have an explosive enterprise story to develop by looking into these angles:

The long-term economic risk of COVID-19

The U.S. economy will recover in the short run, Jerome Powell, head of the Federal Reserve, told 60 Minutes, but “the real risk is the damage caused to peoples’ careers,” if companies go out of business and employees who were laid off or lost their jobs don’t get rehired or reemployed.

Ask readers who have lost their jobs, or are working reduced hours, to participate in a panel. These are workers in restaurants, hospitality, retail, and other service industries, who face “double jeopardy,” according to the title of this report from the Kaiser Family Foundation: the threat of both a health and an employment crisis.  

The growing gap among U.S. workers

In mid-March,  the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced up to $100 million in “Dislocated Worker Grants” for job training to address the growing gap among U.S. workers. “Early in the health crisis,” noted Fed Governor Michelle W. Bowman, “a larger fraction of Americans were facing financial hardship than in the fall of 2019.” Nearly half, or 48 percent, said that they were “finding it difficult to get by” or “just getting by.” These workers don’t have an emergency fund capable of weathering an economic downturn.

Learn more about the job training resources funded through the DOL’s Employment Training Administration agency here. Then call your state and local workforce development and nonprofit agencies and organizations that offer job training services to find out what your state is doing. Has your panel been offered job training by an employer? Do they know how to access such resources? Inform them! 

The need for digital job training

As the U.S. economy recovers, it will become increasingly a “digital” economy. The additional unemployment benefits available for the next few months will help, but only in the short term. What’s needed, says the nonprofit Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, is increased digital access and job training. In Connecticut, the state’s unemployment offering is expanding free online learning licenses available to those affected by COVID-19. What is your state offering?


  • Dorianne Perrucci

    Since 2001, Dorianne's freelance bylines have appeared in leading print and digital news outlets, including The New York Times, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, TheStreet.com, The Star-Ledger and NJ Biz. During the financial crisis of 2007-2009, Do...

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