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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The collision of three unprecedented events — the pandemic, its economic toll and an uprising against racial injustice — is causing an extraordinary level of angst among workers.

Why it matters: High anxiety levels are touching employees in nearly every industry — as measured by the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index and other pollsand labor unrest could be bubbling beneath the surface.

  • For example, 43% of Americans in last week's Axios-Ipsos coronavirus survey reported that they were concerned about their job security, and 44% said they were worried about their ability to pay their bills.

The big picture: There's been a tremendous downward shift in worker power in record time.

  • This time last year, the unemployment rate was near a 50-year low. Jobs were plentiful, and corporations were bending over backwards to get employees to work for them.
  • The dynamic has vastly changed, with the jobless rate at some of the highest levels in nearly a decade (though falling).

The unemployed are unsure if their jobs will ever come back. The $600 per week boost in unemployment benefits shoring up their finances has expired — and is unlikely to return.

  • Some workers furloughed at the onset of the pandemic are still in purgatory, but signs are cropping up that job losses may become permanent.
  • MGM Resorts said last week that 18,000 workers furloughed in March are now permanently out of work.

Those who do have jobs wonder how much longer they’ll have a paycheck.

  • Airline workers got a six-month reprieve from job cuts under the federal CARES Act, but travel demand remains low and isn’t expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
  • “Airlines have downsized their companies already through voluntary measures. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be enough,” Airlines for America CEO Nicholas Calio told reporters this week.
  • Without more federal aid, tens of thousands of employees will be furloughed Oct. 1.
  • “Keeping people in this state of uncertainty is a certain kind of cruelty all in itself,” Sara Nelson, president of the flight attendants union, told Axios.

Some workers face a previously unfathomable tradeoff: quit their job or keep it, but at the risk of potentially contracting the virus.

  • Amnesty International says the United States is among the worst countries for health care worker deaths from the pandemic.
  • "I hear a lot of trepidation, a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety," Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, told Axios. "There are no good choices right now."

Black workers are calling on employers to take greater action against structural racism.

  • Young workers saw racism both in police violence and in the hugely disproportionate impact the virus was having on people of color, Damon Silvers, AFL-CIO's director of policy, told Axios.

The bottom line: "The everyday middle-class workers are breaking from the stress of this pandemic," Mary Grimmer, who owns Little Treasures Schoolhouse, a Massachusetts-based child care organization, told Axios' Erica Pandey.

  • "People are really snapping, and you can see it."

Go deeper

The plunge in highly skilled work visas

Data: U.S. State Department via Migration Policy Institute: Note: Including E1, E2, H-1B, H-4, L-1, L-2, O-1, O-2, O-3, TN and TD visas; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Coronavirus has slammed the door on highly skilled foreign workers — amping up President Trump's push to limit American-based companies' hiring of foreigners.

Why it matters: The restrictions and bottlenecks may outlast the pandemic, especially if Trump wins reelection. Economists warn that could slow the U.S. recovery and reduce competitiveness.

Axios roundtable on education and economic opportunity

On Tuesday December 8 Axios' Ina Fried and Sara Fischer hosted the third in a series of virtual roundtables, featuring policymakers and leaders across multiple industries to discuss education, skills-based training, and its impact on workforce development and economic recovery.

JFF president and CEO Maria Flynn kicked off the conversation discussing how companies like Google are partnering with community colleges across the country to help prepare low income adults for the digital economy.

  • "We all know this has upended our economy and that it's even more important to focus on this type of work...We believe that there's really no going back to normal or the status quo. We believe we should really seize this moment in time to fix the systems that were broken long before the pandemic hit."

Maureen Conway, Vice President at the Aspen Institute discussed one of the critical barriers to adult education and skills training.

  • "One of the key barriers [to training] that we find is...the time to participate. [Students] often can't afford to not work. I think we really need to think about—particularly if we're thinking about lifelong learning systems and engaging adults—what does it really mean to support people at all stages of their lives, to be able to really participate in earnings and to create equitable access to that?"

Christine Cruzvergara, Vice President of Higher Education and Student Success at Handshake discussed how the pandemic has changed the job market for recent graduates and how virtual accessibility is making a positive impact.

  • "We're seeing a lot of virtual and digital recruiting come into play and actually allow for more underrepresented students to get messages from employers, to be able to connect with employer ambassadors, to be able to find internships and jobs in ways that they weren't before, because we are seeing employers actually use technology to diversify their candidate pool...That's been a positive shift that we've started to see."

Congressman Joseph Morelle (D-NY) on shifting how people think about two key conceptual frameworks around education and job training:

  • "The first [framework] is that there's people who are college ready and then people who are not. The second framework is that when you're done with college, you're done with learning...Both frameworks I think are faulty, particularly in the 21st century, we need to start getting everyone thinking about lifelong learning...People are desperate for information, whether it's for their career or advancement, or it's just being a better citizen."

Congressman Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.) closed the conversation by stressing the importance of bipartisan efforts to solve workforce challenges and job preparation for the future.

  • "There's going to be a reconfiguring of the workforce. We've talked about automation, which has already been happening, but the pandemic is going to bring that out faster than we ever expected...We have to think about how we can ensure that the workers up today are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow."

Read the recap of our first roundtable event here and our second roundtable event here.

Thank you Google for sponsoring this event.

White House says it expects federal contractors to be vaccinated by Dec. 8

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House said in new guidance Friday that it expects millions of federal contractors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus no later than Dec. 8.

Why it matters: Companies with federal contractors have been waiting for formal guidance from the White House before requiring those employees to get vaccinated, according to Reuters.

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