The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, in partnership with the W. E. Upjohn Institute and the Penn Institute for Urban Research at the University of Pennsylvania, is conducting a webinar series highlighting strategies to promote an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. The first webinar focused on the impact of the pandemic on workers and the need for job training and skill development during the recovery. A full recording of the webinar and the speakers’ slides can be found here.
Recent data indicates that about 20 percent of the U.S. labor force has lost employment or earnings since February 2020, and about half of all job losses have taken place in the retail, leisure and hospitality industries. Some demographic groups have been disproportionately impacted by employment or earnings losses, including Black and Latino workers, workers with a high school education or less, and female workers. Notably, a large percentage of recent job losses may be permanent, meaning the worker won’t go back to employment at that particular job; Steven Davis from the University of Chicago shared recent calculations suggesting that 32-42 percent of job losses that have resulted from the coronavirus may be permanent.
To date, most policy responses to the coronavirus have taken the form of relief, but Harry Holzer from Georgetown University urged a shift toward recovery-related policies that support job creation and strategies to ensure that workers can obtain available jobs. Holzer encouraged policymakers to focus on three important points when deciding which education and training policies to enact:
- Policy proposals should target support to the highest-need workers, including permanently displaced workers, workers who have experienced involuntary reductions in their hours, low-wage workers in “essential” jobs, and young workers who are new entrants into the labor market.
- Policies should support education and training for work in high-demand fields.
- Policies should implement education and training approaches that research has shown to be effective, such as work-based learning and apprenticeship, occupational and career guidance, and financial aid for higher education.
Davis suggested that many of the massive shifts in consumer spending, working arrangements and business practices that have occurred as a result of the pandemic will not fully reverse. For example, working from home, online shopping and delivery, and virtual meetings and interactions may become the norm as people are getting used to these practices and as businesses realize that virtual interactions are often easier and less expensive. Davis encouraged policymakers to think ahead to the future and enact policies that facilitate the shift toward virtual, rather than enacting policies that try to return to the pre-pandemic status quo.
Michelle Miller-Adams from the W. E. Upjohn Institute encouraged a focus on policies that facilitate a better match between labor supply and demand, including identification of skills shortages and training to meet those needs. She shared a number of state and local examples of programs that support individuals who are disconnected from work, including the concept of neighborhood hubs as a supplement to the workforce system’s one-stop job centers, and the use of technology to provide career guidance and information to job seekers. Miller-Adams also encouraged the expansion of high-quality tuition-free college programs, which include elements such as universal eligibility, embedded student support, strong alignment with employer needs and stable funding; she highlighted the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect programs as best practices.
Meghan Wills, Director of Strategic Initiatives