With 5.245 million more Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment insurance last week, it shows that the damage to the U.S. labor market is continuing to be deep and far-reaching. The new filings bring the crisis total to just over 22 million, nearly wiping out all the job gains since the Great Recession.
Unemployment is not in and of itself a new phenomenon. I know. I lost my communications job during the Great Recession and spent two years fighting my way back, applying to companies that had frozen their hiring or were swarmed with applicants just like myself. As a result, I built my own company. Over the past eight years, I acquired dozens of clients across a number of industries, from technology and hospitality to health care and consumer goods. But within three days of the coronavirus pandemic hitting the U.S., my clients retreated, "promising" to circle back once the crisis is over.
Now I'm left to fight my way back again. But this time it's different.
This downturn has caught workers and companies off guard, like a 2 a.m. tornado, leaving utter devastation in its path. While 15.3 million people lost their jobs between 2007 and 2009, the downward slide was gradual. In just four weeks the coronavirus pandemic has left more than 22 million people unemployed. That is more than the entire two-year period of the Great Recession. We also just saw the biggest over-the-month percentage increase of unemployment since 1975.
We don't know when companies will feel it's safe to hire again, so we are in a game of wait, watching the rubble fall around us: Mortgage, credit cards, student loans and personal loans are hanging in the balance, and many are taking from Peter to pay Paul for basic necessities like food. Payment forgiveness needs to be implemented rapidly, and for those businesses that are hiring, they need to do it quickly.
Another major difference? In 2009, if you were really feeling the financial crunch, individuals were able to find temporary work at restaurants, retailers and other businesses. Today these businesses are shuttered, some temporarily and some never to open again.
Opinions are at every corner, offered by corporations that are keeping employees, ones that are letting them go, and from recruiters delivering perspective on the market. Each offer a glimmer of hope to the employee that has been displaced. But an important viewpoint is missing: the perspective from the front lines — the worker that has lost their paycheck, seemingly overnight.
America needs to hear our voice, understand our level of hope, recognize our deep layer of fear and receive valuable tips of what we are doing to try to stand out in the sea of unemployment. We need to be loud. We need it understood that within each recession, the financial and psychological impact lasts well beyond the unemployment. We start to feel less. We agree to take less. We worry that we are worth less. We're not. We need to promote ourselves, connect with everyone and never stop learning. Employers will hire again, and when they do, the fight will be recognized and valuable.
Those that have had the rug pulled out from under them in the past few weeks have been left with their head spinning and their wallet thinning. It's tough. Couple this with the constant chatter about how organizations will maintain their level of success and how big business will fare when it's all over. Will they get a bailout? Will there be tax relief? Will someone or something come in to save the day? The reality is that, for the worker, this conversation adds a bit of salt to the wound. After all, who is coming in to save them? The worker unfortunately knows the answer and understands that the climb will be steep.
So what is the new job seeker up against? A sea of people just like them, companies that are scared and bills that are likely to compound. They are likely applying to every job that is fitting and some that are not, only to find out days later that the positions have been pulled as many companies freeze hiring.
But there is better news. The workers in our country are talented. They are creative. They are resilient. And there is no doubt that this situation will create a reinvention of who we are as a workforce. I saw it in 2009. If the unemployed weren't going to be hired in-house, they were going to go it alone. It was the beginning of the freelance nation. People, across industry, offered their services as contractors and freelancers. The deliverables may have been the same, but the method to get there was different. It was creative and forward-thinking. We are there again, and the unemployed will have to reinvent what and how it means to work.
Companies have had to rethink their working environments rapidly, crisis plans have had to quickly be created and revamped, and everyone, including the employee, will have to challenge what was, moving forward with what can be. And they will. Maybe the displaced worker will diversify their services. Maybe they will learn a new skill; becoming even more marketable, and maybe the office will someday be the living room, by choice.
Remember that the workers are the individuals that make the business tick. Stick with them. Hire them. Even if there isn't a budget to hire now, don't ignore them. Respond to their inquiries. Connect them with your colleagues. And share your anticipated timeline for hiring. These workers are displaced, but they are not dormant. Keep them close so that when the time comes, you can bring them to your team quickly.
1. First and foremost, accept the situation. In order to move forward, there must be a sense of where you are truly at. There is grief in it all — it shouldn't be downplayed. The unemployed will likely experience the stages of denial, anger, the desire to bargain, a sense of depression and finally acceptance. This is real. Some will sit in a stage longer; some will flow through them faster. But the faster we accept the situation, that we acknowledge it exists, the faster we will rise from the rubble.
2. Keep "doing your job." While unemployed, keep your skills fresh and your portfolio updated by continuing to do what you did for your company. This applies whether your job was in construction, marketing, public relations or IT. Use yourself as the client. I personally handle media relations for organizations. Now I am pitching myself as an expert. I created content for companies to showcase their thought leaders. Now I am writing my own eBooks and articles — anything to show what I have to offer, sharing on social media and publishing on websites.
The reality? If we can do it for ourselves, we can surely do it for others when the time comes again. Pitch to the media. Continue creating and building your own projects to keep your skills in check. In the end you will be more marketable.
3. Never stop connecting. Social media was created for two-way communication. Though one could argue that this is often not the case, displaced workers are participating actively every day. They are finding people that work in their field, and they are connecting. They are finding recruiters and letting them know they are available. They are keeping their LinkedIn profiles as up to date as possible. And they are creating content that shows they are a leader in their field and then they are sharing ... sharing ... sharing.
4. Continue to bolster your skills. Whether employed or unemployed, no worker can afford to become complacent. Technology changes, and quickly. We all need to stay ahead of the curve. Therefore, displaced workers are taking this opportunity to learn something new or to become better at something that was already in their wheelhouse. After all, if there was ever a time to stand out, it is now.
Add a certification, take an online training class or just learn how to create a better resume. Showcase the skills you can bring to the table. Kaplan Professional is one company that is helping those that have been impacted by the coronavirus by offering free online training courses.
The coronavirus pandemic has created challenges at an expedited level, creating unemployment beyond past reference and having an impact in ways without precedence. But as acceptance takes hold, one thing may be similar to that of 2009: The unemployed will rise, create new norms, build new realities and be ready when the time comes.
— By Doreen Clark, president of Doreen Clark Consulting, a public relations and communications consultancy in Chanhassen, Minnesota