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Labor Day 2020

September 7, 2020


Most of us have never witnessed a Labor Day quite like this one. Not since the Great Depression have so many people been out of work and the future of the economy been so unsettled. In the United States there are currently around 27 million people receiving unemployment benefits. Every day it seems another company announces new permanent layoffs as they try and survive the pandemic. If you are one of the fortunate people still working, you might be wondering how you should deal with friends and family who no longer have jobs. Dorie Chevlen (@doriechevlen), an associate staff writer at Wirecutter, writes, “Losing a job is always a dispiriting experience, but losing a job when jobless claims have reached record highs can be especially traumatic. Competition among job seekers is stiffer than ever, and experiencing it during a global pandemic when you can’t even commiserate in person? Even worse. Still, there are ways to reach out to newly unemployed friends from a distance and make the experience slightly less awful.”[1] Here are some of her recommendations for reaching out to unemployed friends and family:


1. Send money when it’s appropriate. “The obvious first stress for many people after losing work is how they’ll survive without the income. Offering financial help is a logical step, but writer and advice columnist John Paul Brammer urges that you consider your relationship to the person before making what can be an uncomfortable gesture. … Since giving money to a friend directly can sometimes feel awkward, a good alternative is a gift card or virtual exchange.”


2. Help them in their job search. “Finding new work is always hard, but especially so during a pandemic. If you have contacts in your newly unemployed friend’s industry, and they’ve indicated they’d be interested in your help, then passing along their résumé, sharing contacts or inviting them to virtual happy hours is hugely helpful, and it’s something you can do at any stage of your own career.”


3. Give a gift. “Beyond the stress of finances and the slog of finding new work, losing a job is simply distressing. … Luckily there are lots of ways to show that you still value your friend, even when things are hard. Flowers are an obvious choice. … A chocolate box can never go wrong, either. … And, of course, food has served as the great gift of crises since time immemorial.”


4. Check in (but don’t pry). “Long after the calls and cards dry up, your friend may be stuck in application purgatory for many more months. ‘People check in immediately after, but not a few weeks or months later,” [says Alison Green, a work advice columnist]. ‘So checking in on a regular basis and asking how they’re doing means a lot.’ … If you’re at a loss for words, Mr. Brammer said, the best thing you can do is just offer an ear. Just a few words need to be said: ‘I’m here to listen if you ever need.'”


You probably don’t have to look far to find someone out of work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all but three states have suffered historically high rates of unemployment during the pandemic.[2] That’s bad news for people already in the workforce. And, if that’s not bad enough, journalist Patrick Thomas (@PatThomas1318) reports students preparing to graduate from college are facing one of the worse job pictures in history. He writes, “At a time of year when many business school students are polishing their networking skills and getting their business haircuts, a number of big companies, including consulting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers, say there will be no jobs on offer to second-year M.B.A. candidates looking to lock down a position before they graduate in 2021. The murky job market has both students and schools worried. M.B.A. students can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend some of the top programs for the promise of an accelerated career and higher salary. Schools market strong job-placement rates to prospective students; those rates ranged between 80% to 90% for many highly ranked programs before the pandemic hit. … A recent survey of more than 1,000 employers found that companies across an array of industries planned to hire nearly 60% fewer management positions this year.”[3]


Ken Rusk (@KenRuskOfficial), President of Rusk Industries in Northwest Ohio, believes that kind of news should remind us that you don’t need an expensive degree to find a good-paying job. He explains, “For several decades, the supply of skilled blue-collar workers has been shrinking, while demand rises.”[4] Although he recognizes the current situation is dire, he writes, “According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as of July 2017, a record 6.8 million jobs that require skilled laborers were left unfilled. Many of them are manufacturing jobs. The National Association of Manufacturers reports that a skills gap has caused about a half-million manufacturing jobs to remain open, and consulting company Deloitte predicts that by the end of this decade, as many as 2.4 million manufacturing jobs may go unfilled, putting $454 billion in production at risk. While these numbers were reported before the coronavirus hit and unemployment has jumped to record levels in virtually all industries, scientists and economists agree that our economy will recover. When it does, for a successful reboot, we’re going to need skilled blue-collar and manufacturing workers more than ever.” The point he is making is that obtaining a college is not always the best course to follow. He explains, “It starts with social pressures that encourage younger generations to avoid skilled trades in the first place. It’s the perpetuation of the ludicrous idea that the only path toward financial success includes a four-year college degree. That thinking ignores the fact that there are millions of young people who don’t have the inclination to spend their working life at a desk looking at a computer screen, or to emerge from schooling with staggering debt.” Learning a trade during the pandemic could set a person up for getting hired quickly in a good-paying job once the economy recovers.


The first Monday in September was probably set aside as a national holiday to celebrate Labor Day because it gave working people a final chance to celebrate summer. This year, for many unemployed people, it’s just another day without a job. Generally, few people look forward to end of the summer, with its long days and warm temperatures. This year may be an exception. This year the end of summer brings the hope that effective vaccines and an end of the pandemic may be just around the corner. Historically, Labor Day provides one last opportunity to gather and celebrate as families and friends. This year gatherings can be problematic. Healthcare officials are concerned people will ignore the dangers of the coronavirus, ignore safe practices, and create a spike or second wave of infections following the holiday. I join with others in asking you to take precautions and celebrate safely.


[1] Dorie Chevlen, “How to Help Someone Who Lost Their Job,” The New York Times, 30 August 2020.
[2] Staff, “Local Area Unemployment Statistics,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21 August 2020.
[3] Patrick Thomas, “M.B.A.s Are Usually Swimming in Job Offers by Now. Not This Year.” The Wall Street Journal, 31 August 2020.
[4] Ken Rusk, “The Unnecessary Crisis in the American Workforce,” IndustryWeek, 28 August 2020.

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