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The "Worker's Market" Post-Pandemic

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the job market has dramatically fluctuated - millions of people were left unemployed during its height. Yet, after time had passed and the risks were much lower, employers were left with not enough workers. As such, hopeful employees have probably heard before that this is now a “worker’s market,” meaning that those looking for jobs or those already employed have the advantage now. But is this the case? And if so, why?


Once the lockdown began in February 2020, it was clear that unemployment was striking certain groups over others. Data found that those facing unemployment the most were women (especially Hispanics and single mothers), young adults, people with less education, immigrants, and low-wage workers. Moreover, the unemployment percentage was much higher with those who overlapped in some categories - for instance, young immigrant adults with less education. 


Two of the most striking differences in unemployment were among gender and race. Between February 2020 and February 2021, 2.4 million women left the workforce compared to only 1.8 million men. Additionally, most of those women were Black or Hispanic, and those Black and Hispanic women were more likely to be single mothers than their white counterparts - again highlighting the larger rate of unemployment found in those with overlapping struggling identities. 


Further, statistics show that women have more familial responsibilities than men, which forcefully drew them out of the workforce four times as much as men as they struggled to balance the changing environment of their jobs and other family members, specifically children. 


The reasons why businesses had to lay off their employees ranged, but one common example was that companies had either no or very few customers, primarily in-person but online as well. Additionally, a survey of executives in August 2020 found that, on average, they planned to reduce office space by 30%. 


Further, those working under large corporations found their bosses more cutthroat than those working with small businesses. Overall, larger companies saw laying off workers as a necessary and cost-effective result of the pandemic. In contrast, small businesses saw their employees as individuals with lives and families to return to.


Many people also left the workforce for several reasons, which essentially boiled down to the fact that their jobs were no longer the same. Jobs had to shift to account for health precautions, there was the danger of getting sick before the vaccine was accessible to everyone, and there was a change in customers as their numbers decreased, which meant fewer tips. Customers also changed as those who did visit sometimes refused to comply with the safety measures that businesses required, calling for more work on employees’ ends.


So, if workers were getting fired and leaving the workforce at rapid rates, then what happened after the pandemic slowed down?


One specific area that severely lacked workers was the service industry. These low- and minimum-wage jobs that force employees to rely on tips and live paycheck-to-paycheck used to be frequently taken by immigrants. Especially for those who are undocumented, many immigrants in the U.S. struggle to find work as they come over to escape prejudice or poverty but arrive with few skills that would be useful in the workforce. 


Now that the dust has chiefly settled post-pandemic, many immigrants who were unable to afford healthcare or to leave jobs that put their well-being in danger fell ill or even died, leaving many of their positions unfilled. Additionally, as workers desire to move up, there is usually little to no movement from white- or blue-collar jobs to service or lower-level parts.

In fact, over 50% of low-wage workers were displaced throughout the pandemic. This forced them to look for work elsewhere in higher-paying positions to compensate for their lack of steady income. However, to be eligible for these positions, many needed new or more advanced skills that they did not have. Service and low-wage jobs often involve basic cognitive skills and physical and manual labor. In contrast, the need for those skills decreases the higher up in the tax bracket one move, making those workers’ learned skills more and more irrelevant.



Thus, many workers in lower-level jobs struggled to return to the workforce, but further, other people worked as well - young adults or teenagers and older individuals or Baby Boomers. Specifically, young adults or teens who had just entered the workforce could not regain momentum. Without a job that had been constant for a while or a network and connections, young adults and teens essentially had to start from scratch, something that is very intimidating for someone new to the workforce. 


Additionally, older individuals or Baby Boomers also struggled to return to the workforce, either for health reasons or retirement. As noted by the CDC, as age increases, so does the risk of falling gravely ill or dying, especially in those 50 years or older, which decreased their rate of returning to work. Others had simply been preparing for or considering retiring, and the pandemic gave them a reason to make it happen.


This meant that for those outside those categories, it was a worker’s market once the pandemic settled, and employers were eager to hire more people again. But still, people did not return to the job market. Why?


Some people, especially investors and politicians, argue that unemployment benefits are too high and that people have less reason to find work because they can collect a check and live off that. Benefits combined with the cash bonuses that people received during the pandemic increased the number of money people got when unemployed significantly.


Further, many people became accustomed to working from or just being at home. Whether this is due to a level of comfort physically or health-wise or caring for children and family or otherwise, people were forced to adjust their lives for the pandemic. It is challenging to return things to how they were before. 


The pandemic has also led to people reconsidering their career choices - from what they’re passionate about to what they’re willing to do to their priorities, ideas about work are changing. Again, especially with lower-level jobs, former employees who were struggling with paying bills and had to deal with harsh working conditions, workers have had time to step back and think about their previous work and if it is worth it to return.


In spite of that, there were positive outcomes to this as well. One example of this is Ariana Garcia, a single mother who was fired from retail and beauty jobs during the pandemic. After the initial shock, she considered her strengths and what she wanted to be doing and wound up getting a job as a school administrative assistant and investing money into getting her real estate license. Now she is seeing the whole picture of her work life, pondering, “‘does this 9 to 5 work for me? Is it good for my mental [health]? Does it pay me adequately? Do I have benefits to provide for my family? If it’s a workplace that’s not willing to provide that, we’re not going to work there.’”


But reconsidering jobs is also the case for other types of work - some office jobs might create a very stressful environment or one where one is expected to stay late often and work overtime. Being separated from work and having more time to themselves, even if that time is stressful because they’re worried about finding a new job, still gives people time to think.


Therefore, this idea of the “worker’s market” is accurate in that workers have advantages, but it is not guaranteed to last long. So, many employees are making the most of this time by challenging their employers to provide them with better working conditions, pay, and more. Essentially, companies are realizing their faults due to the pandemic and are now forced to reckon with employees who want their wrongs corrected to provide a better future for the workforce.

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Tags: #pandemic #covid19 #unemployment #work


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