Politics

Their candidate lost. Now they're job hunting as the coronavirus pandemic crushes the economy

Key Points
  • Thousands of campaign staffers were fired earlier this month after their candidates dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. 
  • But now, as governments across the globe race to contain the coronavirus, the worldwide economy has frozen, leaving job seekers in the lurch. 
  • "I was sitting there thinking, 'How am I supposed to talk about myself and why people should hire me when people are reasonably very concerned about other things?'" a former Warren staffer said.
Molly Doris-Pierce job-hunting from her apartment in Boston amid the coronavirus pandemic. Her former employer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, dropped out of the 2020 presidential race in March. "I do my best to scrimp and save but it's going to be tight and I am incredibly nervous," she said.
Molly Doris-Pierce

A month ago, Molly Doris-Pierce was hoping to help elect the next president. Now she's hoping to find a job.

Thousands of campaign staffers were fired earlier this month after their candidates dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. But now, as governments across the globe race to contain the coronavirus, the worldwide economy has frozen, leaving job seekers in the lurch. 

Times like these call for dark humor. 

"I know everyone is working on their think pieces so if anyone has a 'How to Write a Cover Letter During a Pandemic' essay in the works let a girl know your best advice," Doris-Pierce wrote Tuesday on Twitter. 

Doris-Pierce, 26, worked as Sen. Elizabeth Warren's national women's outreach director. Warren exited the 2020 Democratic primary earlier this month after a disappointing showing on Super Tuesday, releasing her staff, which numbered more than 1,000 across dozens of states.

Other campaigns have done the same. 

A historically large Democratic primary field was winnowed down to just two major contenders in a rapid chain of events earlier this month. Staffers who had moved around the country to work for Warren, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar were let go.

Even campaign workers employed by billionaire Mike Bloomberg, guaranteed jobs through November, have been fired.  

Of course, millions Americans are at risk of job loss in the immediate future as the coronavirus devastates the economy. The travel and food service industries have essentially collapsed, with businesses barring their employees from taking flights and cities like Los Angeles and New York closing restaurants and bars. 

In an early sign of the toll the coronavirus could inflict nationwide, data released on Thursday showed jobless claims surged to 281,000 last week, the highest total since September 2017. "Jobs will be lost, wealth will be destroyed and confidence depressed," Bank of America warned

Resonating with the moment  

The extreme unpredictability of campaign jobs separate them from employment avenues that in normal times are considered more stable. Still, the pandemic has left heightened uncertainty in its wake.

In an interview, Doris-Pierce said she had been struggling to craft a cover letter that would resonate with the moment.

"I was sitting there thinking, 'How am I supposed to talk about myself and why people should hire me when people are reasonably very concerned about other things?'" she said. Nothing seemed to come off right: "My skills as a team player would come in very handy as your team struggles to handle a pandemic," she joked. 

Other former campaign workers are also venting their frustration online.

"Imagine being recently unemployed and trying to get a new job during an unprecedented global health crisis," a former Klobuchar staffer wrote in a recent Twitter post. 

"Didn't realize it would be so easy to imagine," a former colleague responded.

 

Job hunting is never easy. But job hunting during an unfolding public health crisis is infinitely worse. 

"The moment that we are in is kind of a one-two punch in that Super Tuesday happened, and then two weeks later the whole country is locked down and campaigns don't have intention to hire right now when everyone is working from home," said a Democratic official who, because he remains employed, declined to be named in order to speak candidly. 

"That's a toxic combination for folks who are on the job hunt right now," he added.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the two Democratic contenders still fighting for the nomination, have basically done away with traditional campaigning for the time being. The two have canceled rallies and fundraisers and directed campaign staffers to work from home.

On Tuesday, with three states hosting nominating contests, the Sanders campaign said it halted efforts to get out the vote. "We are making clear to voters that we believe going to the polls amid the coronavirus outbreak is a personal decision and we respect whichever choice they make," spokesman Mike Casca said. 

Sanders lost in those three states, widening the gap between himself and Biden. On Wednesday, campaign manager Faiz Shakir said Sanders will "assess his campaign" in the coming weeks. If Sanders drops from the race, hundreds more Democrats could suddenly be jobless. 

"My expectation is that everything is going to be slower," said Ben Ernst, who until recently served as Klobuchar's New England states director for Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. "Looking from the outside of the campaigns, they are going to have to figure out how to do all the things that we normally do in person over the phone or online, and any change takes time."

Back to living with the parents

Ernst is 27 and living at home with his parents after his lease in Manchester, New Hampshire, ended this month. He said if it were not for the coronavirus, he would probably be traveling  — and trying a bit harder to find a job. 

"Honestly, part of it, and this is a little more private, is I am privileged enough to not find a job right away. I can stay at my parents' place. I don't need to find a job. There are a lot of people who have to work to pay the bills," he said. "The other thing is people who haven't been doing it as long or don't have a network."

Campaign work is by definition unpredictable, marked by a frenetic pace and unclear end dates. Ernst said he had worked 12 jobs in just the last five years.

"I used to be a little more nervous about it than I am now," he said. 

Doris-Pierce said the thought of all of the newly unemployed workers in the hospitality industry makes her feel a little bit guilty. 

"I am not unemployed because of the pandemic, I am unemployed because I took a job where the risk was that we wouldn't win," she said. 

Terrible timing

But the timing is still terrible. Doris-Pierce said she has applied for unemployment benefits and MassHealth, the name for Massachusetts' Medicaid program.

"I do my best to scrimp and save, but it's going to be tight and I am incredibly nervous," she said. "I think the scariest part is that no one knows what the country is going to look like in a week so everyone is taking it 10 seconds at a time."

It's hard to say what the long-term impact of the pandemic-related financial collapse will be on the Democratic Party's staff recruiting efforts.

The Democratic official noted that former President Barack Obama turned to young people who had graduated during the last financial crisis, in 2008, to staff his 2012 reelection bid, at times hiring 1,000 people per battleground state.

"Campaigns are less likely to lay off staff amid a recession than the private sector," he said. 

Doris-Pierce said that, given the challenges of campaigning without organizing in person, those who have mastered digital tactics could thrive.

"Campaigns are all about looking at a challenge and coming up with creative ways to solve it, so I think career campaign people are incredibly skilled for this unprecedented challenge," she said. 

The Democratic National Committee is aware that many former campaign staffers are now looking for employment, but there's only so much it can do. The party sends an email out each week with job openings and training opportunities to those who are looking for jobs. 

"We have a robust talent bank that we update regularly where we collect resumes for the eventual nominee and state parties and other job openings in battleground states," a spokesperson said in a statement. "We reach out to each presidential campaign once they are no longer in the race to let them know about the talent bank so they can pass along job openings to their staff to ensure we can help find them jobs."

It is possible that some help will soon come from the federal government. The White House is working with Congress to hammer out the details of a massive stimulus package likely to involve more than $1 trillion in spending.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that President Donald Trump is seeking direct payments of $1,000 for adults and $500 for kids

As might have been expected, that potential aid package has done little to warm the president to those once professionally employed to oust him. Trump early on dismissed the outbreak, going so far as to call it a hoax Democrats were using to damage his campaign.

"It's not really relevant to your story, but it's what I'm feeling right now, just watching this administration: Thousands of people are going to die, and that's horrible," Ernst said. "They've done a lot of horrible stuff, but this one is up there. He put all of us at risk."