A growing side effect of the pandemic: Permanent job loss



Permanent layoffs have already begun spreading beyond industries directly affected by the pandemic. Nick Bunker, the director of economic research with the Indeed Hiring Lab, found that while permanent losses were concentrated in April in service-sector occupations that have been the hardest hit — waiters and retail salespersons, for example — they had spread by June throughout the labor market.

The trend appears poised to get worse. The number of Americans applying for unemployment aid has risen in recent weeks after months of steady decline, as the coronavirus surges across much of the country and a majority of states have either paused or reversed reopening plans.

Layoffs taking place now are more likely to be permanent rather than a temporary furlough. A Goldman Sachs analysis from July 31 found that 83 percent of job losses since February had been deemed temporary. But of all new layoffs in July in California, which it used as an example, only 35 percent were temporary.

“What’s happening now is more companies that thought they could survive are giving up,” said Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford. “The most painful time to lose your job may well be coming up.”

The permanent losses hold greater weight than temporary layoffs, economists say, because they are far more likely to lead to long-term unemployment that would prolong any economic recovery. While a furloughed worker is likely to get his or her job back as soon as consumer behavior returns to normal, a permanently laid-off worker has to wait for an employer to create a new job, then apply and get matched with the right one.

“That’s what recessions are made of — that’s why they are so costly. That’s why they take so long to clean up,” said Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork, a platform that connects businesses with freelancers.

Workers who remain unemployed over the long term end up increasingly less likely to return to the labor market for a number of reasons: Their skills may erode; they may lose motivation or employers may discriminate against them, Bloom said. Even after returning to the labor market, they could see effects like lower pay that linger throughout their careers.

“The reason that’s important from a macro perspective is, if you have this army of long-term unemployed, it becomes almost impossible to have a rapid rebound,” said Bloom, who co-authored a study in May that found that 42 percent of recent layoffs were likely to become permanent.



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