Some jobs may never return. Moving those workers into new careers is an enormous challenge.

Some jobs may never return. Moving those workers into new careers is an enormous challenge.


The labor market has recovered 12 million of the 22 million jobs lost from February to April. But many jobs may not return any time soon, even when a vaccine is deployed, The New York Times’s Eduardo Porter reports.

This is likely to prove especially problematic for millions of low-paid workers in service industries like retailing, hospitality, building maintenance and transportation, which may be permanently impaired or fundamentally transformed. What will janitors do if fewer people work in offices? What will waiters do if the urban restaurant ecosystem never recovers its density?

Their prognosis is bleak. Marcela Escobari, an economist at the Brookings Institution, warns that even if the economy adds jobs as the coronavirus risk fades, “the rebound won’t help the people that have been hurt the most.”

Looking back over 16 years of data, Ms. Escobari finds that workers in the occupations most heavily hit since the spring will have a difficult time reinventing themselves. Taxi drivers, dancers and front-desk clerks have poor track records moving to jobs as, say, registered nurses, pipe layers or instrumentation technicians.

The challenge is not insurmountable. Stephanie Brown, who spent 11 years in the Air Force, found her footing relatively quickly after losing her job as a cook at a hotel in Rochester, Mich., in March. She took advantage of a training program offered by Salesforce, the big software platform for businesses, and got a full-time job in October as a Salesforce administrator for the New York software company Pymetrics from her home in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Yet despite scattered success stories, moving millions of workers into new occupations remains an enormous challenge.

Training has always been a challenge for policymakers, and the pandemic complicates matching new skills with jobs. At scale, it will be a considerable challenge to assist workers in the transition to a new economy in which many jobs are gone for good and those available often require proficiency in sophisticated digital tools.



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