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Janitor Gloria Espinosa still vividly remembers the moment she was laid off last year.
A supervisor collected her with colleagues in the office parking lot where she was working in San Francisco and then spread the news.
Espinosa said, “I thought, ‘Oh my God, why are we?’ It was like receiving a bucket of cold water.
Months later, Espinosa is still unemployed and part of a troubling economic statistic: While the labor market is showing signs of recovery, the millions who lost their jobs at the start of the pandemic a year ago are still out of the workforce.
according to Monthly jobs report Released Friday, more than 4 million people have been unemployed for six months or more in February, an increase of 3 million over the past year.
The long-term unemployed account for 41% of all unemployed people in the United States – levels not seen since the height of the Great Recession.
Adriana Kugler, a professor of economics at Georgetown University and former chief economist at the Department of Labor, says the number of long-term unemployed people may be smaller than the number.
Consider all people who only found part-time work or who have dropped out of the workforce altogether, and the problem could be more profound.
“Overall, this takes us to a double digit unemployment rate,” says Kugler. “The scale of the problem is huge.”
Worse, women and people of color who have been disproportionately affected by layoffs during the pandemic are among those hardest hit by long-term unemployment.
Both groups were already earning less before the pandemic, and now face the risk of a permanent blow to their earnings.
T Gray Albert
McKinsey a study From February it is expected that it will take two years longer for women and people of color to regain the jobs they lost during the pandemic.
“The progress we’re seeing in bridging the gender gap, and even getting COVID out of the picture, is very slow,” says study co-author Kweilin Ellingrud. “And then you pause the slow progress of the glaciers, and you make negative progress, that’s very frustrating.”
Right now, many long-term unemployed are reluctant to give up jobs they have loved and held for years.
Bod Johnson, a transit bus at the University of Delaware, lost his job last year when the classroom became virtual.
When asked what he loves most about his old job, he used one word: “everything.”
“The scenes are amazing. The people I work for are amazing. I love the atmosphere,” he says.
Johnson ditches his dwindling savings as he awaits his return one day.
“I eat two meals a day instead of three,” he says. “I go to the pantry and get food from them.”
However, the concern is that the longer people remain unemployed, the more difficult it is for them to join the workforce.
William Spriggs, chief economist at AFL-CIO and professor at Howard University, says employers often stigmatize people who have not worked in months. The longer a person is without work, the harder it is to find new work.
“Instead of the typical way you think about line work – you show up in the movies, I’m first in line, I’ve been here, and I’m next. It works in reverse,” says Spriggs. “The new unemployed people get first in the class.”
There is another concern, too.
What if some jobs are no longer? The way people work and live has changed dramatically during the pandemic, with the increase in online shopping for example.
These shifts could make the loss of some jobs more permanent, Georgetown University professor Kugler He says the United States is not prepared to help those workers who will be affected.
“I am very concerned that we are not investing in developing the workforce,” she says.
Even if some jobs did return, they may return in different forms, such as office work, for example.
Since many people have adapted to working from home, experts believe they may not return to busy offices anymore as many companies consider a combination of remote and in-office work.
That could have ripple effects for people like Espinosa, who cleaned offices and were laid off last year.
Espinosa knows there’s no guarantee she’ll get her job back, but she is optimistic.
“In my opinion, there will be a need for additional workers, so that we can provide that extra clean space that the workers deserve,” she says.