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COVID-19 Employment Report: Measuring the Impact on Workers

In May 2020, CareerPlug surveyed 500 American workers across a range of industries to better understand how their employment and income have been affected by COVID-19 and to gauge their sentiment about returning to work during the pandemic. 

With the inception of increased unemployment benefits through the CARES Act in March, narratives began to emerge that many employees were declining to return to work because their unemployment benefits exceeded their normal earnings. 

However, our survey data revealed some misconceptions about how workers actually feel about the current job landscape and the nature of current unemployment benefits. 

Here are some of our key findings from the report.

1. Most unemployed workers are not replacing their lost earnings through unemployment. 

Nearly half of unemployed people surveyed said they have not applied for unemployment benefits, and those that have received unemployment benefits perceive those payments as being less than their normal earnings.

COVID-19 unemployment benefit amounts

In May 2020, economists at the University of Chicago projected that 68% of unemployed workers who can receive benefits are eligible for payments that are greater than their lost earnings. But our numbers indicate that only 32.5% of unemployment benefit recipients reported receiving more than their normal income, with the majority (58.75%) receiving less than their normal income, and just 8.75% receiving an amount equal to their lost earnings.

32.5% is certainly a noteworthy figure, but it falls far short of the majority of our survey respondents. While our survey data is self-reported, this finding could provide clues to indicate that the majority of workers are declining to return to work not specifically due to higher income from unemployment benefits. 

2. The notion that most people are declining to return to work is a misconception. 

Our survey indicates that the overwhelming majority of workers who have quit or been laid-off or furloughed due to COVID-19 have either decided to return to work or would return to work if asked. Far fewer responded that they have declined an offer to return to work, and even fewer said they would decline if asked. 

Returning to work during COVID-19

Anecdotes of employers calling employees back to work only to be met with refusals from their employees have circulated, but our survey data reveals that those cases are well in the minority. 

3. People are still applying to jobs. 

63% of unemployed people said they were actively looking for work. But perhaps more surprising: 42% of people who are currently employed are actively looking for new jobs, citing “better pay” and “more hours” as their primary reasons for doing so. 

Workers in all industries we surveyed have reported some degree of reduced hours among staff who are still currently employed. Workers in some industries have faced more significantly reduced hours than others. Among the industries hardest hit:

  • Cleaning services:  79% of currently employed workers say their hours have been reduced. 
  • Restaurants: 77% of currently employed workers say their hours have been reduced. 
  • Hospitality, Entertainment, and Recreation: 59% of currently employed workers say their hours have been reduced. 

Dana Krook from TouchBistro says of restaurants specifically: “The findings around employed restaurant workers actively looking for new job opportunities also aligns with industry sentiment we’ve been seeing. But this may be amplifying an existing issue. Our report on The State of Full Service Restaurants in 2020 (research conducted pre-COVID) found that 61% of restaurants rely on wages to stay competitive in the job market. It’s always been tough to find and keep talent in this industry. With the additional risk that workers have to take on right now, it may get even harder.”

Employee scheduling software company, 7shifts, found similar results in their own survey:

4. People are optimistic about reopening businesses. 

Throughout the pandemic, many have speculated whether or not people are afraid to return to work due to health and safety concerns. Most of our survey respondents said they are at least neutral or satisfied with their state or local government’s plans to reopen businesses.

Confidence in government plans to reopen

Additionally, our survey found that 80% of respondents feel that their current employer has done enough to ensure the health and safety of employees and customers.

Related resources

  • Ask a Hiring Expert: How to Build a Hiring Process — An unprecedented number of talented people are now available on the job market. As you prepare to reopen your business, take this time to re-evaluate your hiring process. In this how-to guide, we share the hiring process steps proven to result in the right hires.
  • Boomerang Employees: How to Rehire Your Former Staff — Boomerang employees, or former employees who are later rehired, can have huge benefits for a recruiting strategy. In this guide, learn how to rehire effectively.
  • Hiring the Right People Quickly — As COVID-19 restrictions ease, businesses may need to hire faster than ever before. Learn how to hire quickly while still making sure you hire the right people.
  • Hiring After Coronavirus: 4 Things You Can Do Now — CareerPlug’s Director of HR shares her advice on what employers can do now to prepare for hiring (and rehiring) after the coronavirus.

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