Some jobs may never return. Moving those workers into new careers is an enormous challenge.

The labor market has recovered 12 million of the 22 million jobs lost from February to April. But many jobs may not return any time soon, even when a vaccine is deployed, The New York Times’s Eduardo Porter reports.

This is likely to prove especially problematic for millions of low-paid workers in service industries like retailing, hospitality, building maintenance and transportation, which may be permanently impaired or fundamentally transformed. What will janitors do if fewer people work in offices? What will waiters do if the urban restaurant ecosystem never recovers its density?

Workers’ Transitions From Shrinking to Growing Occupations

CIRCLES ARE SIZED BY SHARE OF TOTAL JOBS

Decline in jobs

from the first

through the

third quarter

of 2020

0

%

Accounting clerks

Retail sales

workers

General managers

–5

Nursing and

home health aides

Computer

systems analysts

Office clerks

–10

Primary school

teachers

Stock movers

–15

Mail carriers

–20

Food prep workers

Preschool teachers

–25

Dishwashers

–30

–35

Waiters and waitresses

0%

5

10

15

20

25

30

35

40

Share of workers who transition

into occupations that are growing

Decline in jobs

from the first

through the third

quarter of 2020

Share of workers

who transition

into occupations

that are growing

Job

Taxi Drivers

Waiters and Waitresses

Hosts and Hostesses

Bartenders

Childcare Workers

Production Clerks

Dishwashers

Preschool Teachers

Machinists

Insurance Agents

Teacher Assistants

Food Prep Workers

House Cleaners

Special Ed. Teachers

Practical and Voc. Nurses

Electricians

Education Administrators

Goods Buyers

Other Service Sales Rep.

Mail Carriers

Mechanic Supervisors

Stock Movers

Packaging Operators

Administrative Assistants

Building Cleaners

–55

–35

–34

–28

–28

–28

–27

–24

–22

–21

–20

–20

–18

–17

–17

–17

–17

–16

–16

–15

–15

–15

–14

–14

–14

%

10

8

6

8

8

20

11

5

18

19

10

9

9

8

27

15

15

39

18

38

40

28

27

18

18

%

Note: The likelihood that workers in shrinking occupations can make the transition to a growing occupation is based on the track record from 2003 to 2019.

Source: Brookings Institution

Their prognosis is bleak. Marcela Escobari, an economist at the Brookings Institution, warns that even if the economy adds jobs as the coronavirus risk fades, “the rebound won’t help the people that have been hurt the most.”

Looking back over 16 years of data, Ms. Escobari finds that workers in the occupations most heavily hit since the spring will have a difficult time reinventing themselves. Taxi drivers, dancers and front-desk clerks have poor track records moving to jobs as, say, registered nurses, pipe layers or instrumentation technicians.

The challenge is not insurmountable. Stephanie Brown, who spent 11 years in the Air Force, found her footing relatively quickly after losing her job as a cook at a hotel in Rochester, Mich., in March. She took advantage of a training program offered by Salesforce, the big software platform for businesses, and got a full-time job in October as a Salesforce administrator for the New York software company Pymetrics from her home in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Yet despite scattered success stories, moving millions of workers into new occupations remains an enormous challenge.

Training has always been a challenge for policymakers, and the pandemic complicates matching new skills with jobs. At scale, it will be a considerable challenge to assist workers in the transition to a new economy in which many jobs are gone for good and those available often require proficiency in sophisticated digital tools.

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