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The Covid Epidemic Is Reshaping Employment: Are American Workers Prepared?

The Covid pandemic is reshaping the job market.

The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently revised the ten-year forecast for jobs it issued in 2019. Before the pandemic, BLS predicted a job market: transformation jobs requiring a college degree or even more advanced credentials would increase, jobs for those with less than a college education would decline.

The new forecast has Covid reducing overall job growth while accelerating the trend of fewer jobs for the less well educated. Are American workers prepared?

BLS points out that Covid’s impact on jobs is not spread evenly across the economy and has made two forecasts:

The “moderate” forecast sees an increase in tele-working reducing the demand for commercial real estate, non-residential construction, commuting services, business travel and business entertainment.

The “severe” scenario adds a long-term consumer shift away from in-person events (dining, leisure travel, large scale entertainment).

How are jobs affected? In 2019, BLS predicted that jobs for restaurant hosts and hostesses – a non-college degree job -- would grow 8.2% over ten years. The moderate scenario now predicts a 10.8% decline in such jobs, while the severe scenario predicts an 18% decline.

For less educated workers, new skills will be critical to success after the pandemic.

Employers have started to recognize this. In response to the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 some employers are shifting candidate evaluation criteria from the degrees that minority candidates are less likely to have – to experience criteria that can broaden the poll of acceptable applicants.

Workers are responding more slowly to these changes. Economic downturns typically see an increase in post-secondary education, as workers whose hours or wages are down use that time to position themselves to do better when the economy recovers. That is not happening during Covid.

While college enrollment is down 2.4%, enrollment by first time students older than 24 is down 30.1%. Associate degrees (down 6.7%) and certificates (down 20%) have also declined more than four-year college in 1H20.

There are clear reasons for this. Many of the best degree or certificate programs in fields with good employment prospects (such as nurse’s aides or home healthcare) cannot operate remotely. When education is available on-line, many lower-income or rural students don’t have internet access with sufficient speed or stability to take advantage of it.

The Covid pandemic has thus simultaneously undermined both employment opportunities and retraining opportunities for Americans without college degrees. Any hope to return to the low unemployment figures of the pre-pandemic years rests on this double whammy receiving urgent attention.

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