Lost your job in the pandemic? You’re not alone

Consumer Action invited two experts from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce to speak at its Sept. 9 webinar: “Tracking the COVID-19 Economic Devastation: Workers facing job losses, and education and training strategies for recovery.”
Published: Friday, October 02, 2020

In light of the unprecedented level of job loss since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Consumer Action invited two experts from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce to speak at its Sept. 9 webinar: “Tracking the COVID-19 Economic Devastation: Workers facing job losses, and education and training strategies for recovery.”

Martin Van Der Werf, associate director for the Center’s Editorial and Postsecondary Policy department, and Emma Wenzinger, the Center’s strategic communications specialist, discussed the latest research on how the pandemic has affected the workforce, who has lost jobs, and who has been hurt the most, economically, by the layoffs. They also offered information on continuing education and training opportunities and strategies for transitioning into a new job.

To give the audience a sense of how large the job loss has been during the pandemic, Van Der Werf pointed out that 800,000 jobs were lost during the worst months of the 2008-2009 economic/housing crisis and recession, while more than 20 million jobs were lost in a single month during the pandemic-caused recession!

Wenzinger explained how the recent historic job losses have hurt the most vulnerable people in the community. While this has happened with just about every economic downturn, this recession is unique in that it affects women workers more than their male counterparts. Those most affected typically have the lowest incomes, lowest level of educational attainment, part-time jobs, and/or jobs at businesses that are vulnerable to sudden changes brought on by outside factors. Black people, Latinos, women (particularly those with children or those working in childcare), and adults without bachelor’s degrees have borne the brunt of the job loss this time around. Wenzinger explained that women have accounted for a higher share of job losses than men across all levels of education, and showed that 51% of women were not working in May and June, as compared to 43% of men.

"And that’s a big gap,” Wenzinger explained, “especially because in January, women hit the milestone of holding a majority of payroll jobs in the U.S. workforce. In other words, women slightly outnumbered men in the workforce shortly before the pandemic, but that has quickly changed.”

In May, women were four times more likely than men who were not working to report that they were not working specifically so that they could care for children who were not in school or daycare.

Worse news yet: Van Der Werf said that of 23 million jobs lost from January through June, more than half have not returned, and are not expected to fully return before 2024. To get back into the workforce sooner, Van Der Werf added, many workers are going to have to pursue additional training and education.

“But when you hear that, don't be too intimidated,” he reassured participants, explaining that more education does not necessarily mean acquiring a bachelor’s degree. “There are lots of opportunities in the workforce with credentials such as associate degrees and certificates.”

After highlighting how workers with more education are less likely to have lost their jobs during the recession, Van Der Werf and Wenzinger went on to describe some of the education and training strategies that can lead to a good job, including associate degrees from community colleges, dual-enrollment programs to help those enrolled in high school obtain associate degrees, apprenticeships and certificates. Typically, these take less time to complete and are less expensive than bachelor's degrees. Some associate degrees, such as those in engineering, protective services, IT and health sciences, even lead to higher salaries, on average, than many bachelor's degrees. Van Der Werf recommended jobseekers contact their local American Job Center to learn more about training and job opportunities.

Participants also heard about the risks presented by for-profit colleges, which typically advertise on TV and should be avoided because they saddle students with loads of debt for often worthless degrees. Van Der Werf added that his employer, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, offered a helpful “return on investment” database of more than 4,500 U.S. colleges and universities to help would-be students estimate their income after graduating with a certificate or other degree from various programs/schools and approximately how much they’re likely to have to pay back in student loans.

During an extensive Q&A session, Van Der Werf offered many practical tips. One suggestion for older workers who’ve lost jobs or are having trouble finding a new job: Consider obtaining a credential from an educational institution or certification body to show that you are continuing to advance in relevant job skills. For additional tips on free or low-cost ways to develop new job skills, as well as loads of information on available certificates and degree programs (and even professional advice on how to handle job loss), Consumer Action recommends its new "Coping with COVID-19: Making a job or career transition" fact sheet.

Consumer Action’s “Tracking the COVID-19 Economic Devastation” is part of Consumer Action's COVID-19 Educational Project, made possible with major funding from Wells Fargo and additional support from AT&T, Bank of America, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Square.

 

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