Feb 17, 2021

Axios @Work

Welcome back to @Work. Send your thoughts to erica@axios.com or start a conversation on Twitter: @erica_pandey.

I've got 1,226 words for you today — a 4½-minute read. We'll start with...

1 big thing: The perils of prolonged unemployment

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nearly 4 million Americans have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer — trapped in a vicious cycle that makes it harder to get back to work.

The big picture: Long-term unemployment during a pandemic is a double whammy. Millions are experiencing food and housing insecurity and lack health care when they need it most.

What's happening: "The troubling amount of long-term unemployment and its continuing rise is dangerous for the U.S. labor market," says Nick Bunker, an economist at the jobs site Indeed. "A fast labor market recovery will help alleviate these concerns, but that bounce back is still a ways away and dependent on controlling the coronavirus."

  • The number of Americans experiencing long-term unemployment — around 4 million — is far from the worst of the Great Recession, when long-term unemployment reached 7 million.
  • But it's remarkable considering where the U.S. was before the pandemic. The long-term unemployment rate is 2.5%, which is comparable to the 3.5% overall unemployment rate in January 2020, Bunker notes.

Why it matters: Studies have shown that long-term unemployment hurts workers' physical and mental health, reports Bloomberg. And the longer someone is unemployed, the harder it is for that person to get another job — let alone another job at the same pay level.

Job-seeking is even more exhausting during a pandemic, says Tim Classen, an economist at the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University in Chicago.

  • To start, there are fewer jobs out there than there are unemployed people.
  • On top of that, people may be attempting to juggle job-hunting with parenting kids who are learning remotely.
  • Not everyone is comfortable interviewing over video calls, and not everyone has the broadband access required to even attend those interviews.

"The fluctuations in uncertainty play into this, too," Classen says. Millions of restaurant workers, flight attendants, retail workers and more aren't sure when the pandemic will end — or if their employers will even survive it.

There's a bit of a silver lining though.

  • While losing a job is a traumatic event and can really chip away at someone's sense of self-worth, it can also be easier to bear if millions are going through the same thing. Job loss doesn't feel as personal in a pandemic, says Classen.
  • "There’s a sense of, 'Yeah, I’m depressed, and I’ve lost my job, but I’m not alone in my suffering,'" he says. "Maybe in some way that tempers it."
2. 100 million workers — displaced

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The pandemic has accelerated a number of future-of-work trends, ones with the potential to displace 100 million workers around the world, according to a new McKinsey Global Institute report.

The big picture: Scores of jobs in retail and hospitality will be gone forever. And while they'll be replaced by new roles in health care, e-commerce and beyond, it won't be easy for droves of workers to reskill and jump into new careers.

McKinsey's analysis examined the ways in which work has changed in China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States and concluded that 100 million workers across those countries may need to find new occupations by 2030.

  • The estimate is 17 million in the U.S. alone, according to Susan Lund, a partner at the McKinsey Global Institute and co-author of the report.

What's happening: In normal times, someone who loses or leaves a job as a host at a restaurant could move to a role as an assistant manager at a clothing store, Lund says.

  • But the pandemic has strengthened the stay-at-home economy for good. More people will work from home, meaning less foot traffic at shops and eateries in big cities. And Americans' increased reliance on grocery delivery and e-commerce will likely stick.
  • That means many of those restaurant, retail and equivalent jobs in the U.S. and other countries will simply disappear.
  • “The long-term effects of the virus may reduce the number of low-wage jobs available, which previously served as a safety net for displaced workers," Lund says. "Given the digitization and the rise in use of technology spurred by the pandemic, those people will need new jobs."

What to watch: Lund projects many of those new jobs will be in higher-skilled fields like health care, technology and human resources.

  • Countries now face the momentous task of training huge portions of their populations. And none of them are adequately prepared.

Go deeper: Switching careers in a pandemic

3. The biggest companies saying "remote work forever"

It started with Twitter, but as the pandemic has dragged on, more and more companies have jumped on the work-from-anywhere bandwagon.

Here's my latest list of the big ones:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Microsoft
  • Reddit

And last week, Spotify and Salesforce both announced work-from-anywhere policies.

My colleague Ina Fried checked in with Salesforce, which made headlines pre-pandemic for scooping up swanky office space in San Francisco, New York and beyond, about the future of the office.

Salesforce said most employees will work from the office one to three days a week, while some will work fully remotely. It now foresees that only the smallest share of its workforce will come to an office each day, she writes.

  • That will also mean using its physical space differently. "Gone are the days of a sea of desks — we'll create more collaboration and breakout spaces to foster the human connection that can't be replicated remotely," Salesforce said in a blog post announcing the changes.

Between the lines: It's a major shift for Salesforce, which has always gone big pursuing its goal of bringing people together, both with its preference for skyscraper offices and its massive Dreamforce conferences, which have historically taken over a huge swath of downtown San Francisco.

4. Worthy of your time
Data: BTS; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The steep drop in airline passengers (Axios)

  • U.S. airlines carried about 60% fewer passengers in 2020 compared with 2019, according to Department of Transportation data released Tuesday. The drop underscores the dramatic impact that the coronavirus pandemic — and the travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders that hallmarked much of the year — had on the travel industry.

Turning your hobby into a career (New York Times)

  • The New York Times' Alex Williams has a brilliant story on the Americans who turned their pastimes into their jobs during the pandemic. A hairstylist who lost clients due to social distancing is now selling homemade bao buns. And a FedEx driver who had to leave her job to stay home with her remote-learning kids started making and selling homemade soaps. Here's a stat that puts it into perspective: "Etsy saw a 42 percent spike in new sellers in the third quarter of 2020," compared with 2019.

Downtown San Francisco is reeling (San Francisco Chronicle)

  • "Downtown San Francisco feels like a tomb," writes SF Chronicle reporter Roland Li. The rise of remote work has emptied coffee shops, train stations and restaurants — and small business owners are worried those office workers will never come back.

Snow shoveling is a hot job market (Wall Street Journal)

  • It's been a snowy month, and shoveling is turning into a lucrative side gig for teens across America. Daniel Miller, chief executive of Shovler, an app that connects job seekers to those who need shoveling done, told the Wall Street Journal that the average price of clearing out a driveway that parks four cars, a medium sidewalk and medium walkway is $200, compared with $55 last year.
5. 1 ❤️ thing: Workplace romances are thriving

Happy belated Valentine's Day! Chances are, a significant chunk of you met current or past partners at the office water cooler.

By the numbers: According to a new survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, 50% of Americans have crushed on a colleague.

  • And here's a surprising stat: 34% said they were romantically involved with a colleague in 2020, up from 27% in 2019.

It looks like the pandemic, which kept many of us at home and on endless Zoom calls with co-workers, spurred quite a few office romances.

Thanks for reading!