May 12, 2020 - Economy & Business

The temporary pandemic layoffs that could become permanent

Briefcases with R.I.P. on them
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Restaurant and retail workers who can't do their jobs remotely were the first to lose their incomes to the pandemic — and, for many of them, those temporary hardships will turn into lasting ones.

By the numbers: Economists at the University of Chicago project that 42% of the layoffs from the pandemic will be permanent.

  • A huge number of retailers and restaurants — especially boutiques and smaller chains — have already closed for good, unable to weather the crisis. And more will follow before the pandemic is over.
  • Even bigger chains like Macy's and Gap might not bring back all of the hundreds of thousands of workers they let go in March, experts tell Axios.
  • And the process of recalling furloughed workers will be gradual. As states start to reopen, stores and eateries will likely operate at lower capacities and only hire back a portion of staff.

The bottom line: The silver lining in last week's jobs report — the worst in U.S. history, with 20.5 million jobs shed in April — was that around 18 million of those lost jobs were just temporary layoffs. But the outlook could turn worse in the coming weeks and months.

Go deeper