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Many Displaced Workers Can’t Just “Go Back To Work” – They Need New Opportunities

It’s better to refer to workers who lost their jobs during the pandemic as “displaced” rather than “unemployed,” because it’s not that these people “lost their jobs”: it’s that the jobs they were successfully working no longer exist.

That’s according to a new report from the Brookings Institute, which shows that there are two very different economic recoveries from COVID-19 lockdowns: one that is going well, and one that is hardly going at all. 

“Pandemic-induced job losses hit low-wage workers much harder than those earning higher wages and, although hiring accelerated in low-wage industries last month, low-wage jobs have been the slowest to return,” the Brookings Institute wrote. 

Low-wage workers, Brookings notes, comprised 43% of the workforce pre-pandemic. Today, they are 53% of the displaced. That means displaced workers were generally more economically vulnerable before the pandemic, and now they face higher barriers to re-entering the workforce.

The report concludes that “returning to the status quo should not be the goal — and may not even be an option.”

The demand for low-wage workers may simply not return to its pre-pandemic levels, the authors warn. 

“The pandemic has resulted in what may be permanent changes in the economy. Recessions accelerate automation and some low-wage roles, such as cashiers and retail salespersons, are especially susceptible. Mid-wage occupations, too, are not immune. At least some permanent shift to telework may also reduce the need for office space, transportation, and downtown retail cores.”

This highlights, the report says, “the need for a more inclusive economy.” We agree 100%. It also highlights the need for career education that fits the lives of displaced workers — training that is accessible, affordable, meets them where they are, prepares them for good jobs that are in demand, and supports them in their job search efforts.

That’s why at Calbright we’re rolling up our sleeves, developing and implementing new programs alongside industry partners, and growing our enrollment. The economic recovery is happening more slowly for the Californians who need it most, and they need support to find opportunities in new or adjacent fields.