The numbers are staggering. There is no way to minimize the economy’s free fall. But for those in dire need of work, there is hope and reason to act now.
First, keep in mind this: Ten million people filed for first-time unemployment benefits in the last two weeks of March. Economists believe that in a few weeks, the shutdowns forced by the coronavirus will cost the U.S. economy more than 20 million jobs. That’s the entirety of what the economy added during the last decade.
The nation’s unemployment rate ticked up to a measly 4.4%, but that’s ridiculously out of date. It’s based on surveys earlier in March, before governors and mayors imposed business shutdowns to save lives. Michael Farren, an economist at George Mason University, offered this take in a piece written for The Hill: “If we assume that every person laid off or furloughed over those two weeks immediately applied for unemployment insurance, then the unemployment rate at the beginning of this week was around 10.5%. That cautious estimate suggests that today’s unemployment rate is likely higher than the highest level reached during the Great Recession.”
Great Recession? We will be talking Big D soon enough.
But the good news for the freshly unemployed is that some companies are hiring, and urgently so. A great connection to them is Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, which serves as an extension of the human resources operations of about 50 mid- and large-sized employers.
The first stop is scfjobs.com, where employers list their openings and applicants can provide their contact information. Skills will quickly respond to give people necessary coaching and help with a resume. Openings currently listed include those in health care, yes, but also customer service, manufacturing, food service, finance and facilities management.
Marie Trzupek Lynch, Skills CEO, said many employers are moving fast to fill openings, compressing hiring decisions that used to take weeks down to perhaps 48 hours. She said many jobs don’t require relevant experience, and employers are improving health and safety procedures at work to assure those afraid of getting sick. Think of the shields Jewel has installed for its checkout workers.
“If somebody’s in the mix and wants to be working now, they can,” Lynch said.
A Skills client, Keelunda Isom, can attest to the group’s quick turnaround. The Southeast Sider reached out to the organization when a part-time job just wasn’t enough, and she was quickly placed at restaurant manager SSP America at Midway Airport. But the virus hit aviation during her training, and the job ended. She went back to Skills for a referral to Walmart. She’s hoping for good news soon.
“I was very lucky to be working with Skills. The response is immediate, like the very next day,” Isom said. She said the group provides advice to help job candidates stand out from a stack of others. “They’ll tell you about the benefits you can expect and whether a place has a high turnover or a low turnover,” she said, adding the process is a confidence booster.
Lynch said in a typical month, her group places about 120 people in jobs. You’d expect demand now to be high for Skills’ services, but she said that’s not the case — and it worries her. She suspects the stay-at-home orders have something to do it. “I think there’s a sense that everything’s shut down, and we’re not. We’ve been working remotely since March 12,” she said.
“Once shelter-in-place goes away, we’ll be getting a tsunami of people coming through our doors. It’ll be unlike anything we’ve seen,” Lynch said. Another factor keeping people away might be expectations for the $600 per week federal sweetener on top of regular unemployment benefits, she said.
Lynch founded a forerunner of the organization in the middle of the last recession.
With a master’s in public policy from the University of Chicago, Lynch grew up in a lower-income part of the western suburbs. “I thought I had bad luck because I couldn’t get the breaks. ZIP code creates destiny,” she said. She’s motivated to fix the inequities she sees in hiring.
It’s too often a “who-you-know” game that disadvantages people without connections. A friend of mine who was seeking a job last year said for all the Indeeds and LinkedIns, you still need “somebody on the inside” to get hired.
By doing the screening for employers, Skills aims to be that insider for people usually shut out. Its services are free. It’s a good friend to have in a crisis.