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Reinventing Workers for the Post-Covid Economy

Rob Siminoski has been in the theater, in one way or another, since he graduated from college. But after 10 years at the Universal Studios theme park in California, he is only No. 13 on the stage-managing roster. Even if the park, closed since March, reopens some attractions — the WaterWorld stunt show, say, or the Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle — he is unlikely to be among the first to get the call.His luck is that his union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, offers an apprenticeship program for on-set movie electricians. It takes five years, and Mr. Siminoski, 33, is going to …

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Pushed by Pandemic, Amazon Goes on a Hiring Spree Without Equal

SEATTLE — Amazon has embarked on an extraordinary hiring binge this year, vacuuming up an average of 1,400 new workers a day and solidifying its power as online shopping becomes more entrenched in the coronavirus pandemic.The hiring has taken place at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, at its hundreds of warehouses in rural communities and suburbs, and in countries such as India and Italy. Amazon added 427,300 employees between January and October, pushing its work force to more than 1.2 million people globally, up more than 50 percent from a year ago. Its number of workers now approaches the entire population of Dallas.The …

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‘Tokenized’: Inside Black Workers’ Struggles at Coinbase

SAN FRANCISCO — One by one, they left. Some quit. Others were fired. All were Black.The 15 people worked at Coinbase, the most valuable U.S. cryptocurrency start-up, where they represented roughly three-quarters of the Black employees at the 600-person company. Before leaving in late 2018 and early 2019, at least 11 of them informed the human resources department or their managers about what they said was racist or discriminatory treatment, five people with knowledge of the situation said.One of the employees was Alysa Butler, 25, who worked in recruiting. During her time at Coinbase, she said, she told her manager several times about …

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Jobs Report Shows Gains but Vulnerability to New Coronavirus Surge

The American economy continues to heal from the devastating effects of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic last spring, but a new wave of cases threatens prospects for sustained growth.

The Labor Department reported Friday that employers added 638,000 jobs in October, a figure that would have been larger without a drop in temporary census workers.

But the engines behind much of the gain — bars and restaurants, which added 192,000 jobs, and retailing, which picked up 104,000 — represent some of the jobs most at risk from a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

Public health experts have linked a return to indoor dining and drinking establishments with increased cases of Covid-19, and those businesses face renewed restrictions as the outbreak worsens. Cooler temperatures are already curtailing outdoor dining, a lifeline for restaurants in many parts of the country.

Similarly, if apprehensive consumers stay away from shopping centers, retail hiring could be curtailed as the year-end shopping season approaches.

Job openings have been weaker than expected as retailers gear up for the holidays, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist at the jobs site Glassdoor. “This could point to more muted spending and hiring,” he said. And despite the recent gains, employment in the leisure and hospitality sector and among retailers is well below levels that prevailed before the pandemic.

Still, there was a notable bright spot in the October report: the unemployment rate fell to 6.9 percent from 7.9 percent.

“It’s better than expected, but we’re starting to see headwinds,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton in Chicago, said of the report. “The drop in the unemployment rate is welcome news, but there are still over 11 million unemployed workers.”

Unemployment rate

By Ella Koeze·Unemployment rates are seasonally adjusted.·Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

After strong gains in the third quarter, the pace of economic growth has eased as federal relief measures enacted at the pandemic’s onset have begun to expire. Prospects of another round of aid have faded with Democrats and Republicans at odds over the size of the package.

The Labor Department report also underscored the uneven nature of the pandemic-induced recession and subsequent recovery, in which low-wage employees have fared far worse than more highly skilled workers.

In October, the unemployment rate for high school graduates stood at 8.1 percent, while joblessness among college graduates was 4.2 percent.

“Low wage-workers have just been decimated,” Ms. Swonk said. “They are most at risk of falling into the ranks of the impoverished.”

Indeed, even as the unemployment rate has come down, joblessness for many has become more prolonged. The Labor Department said the number of long-term unemployed — those without work for 27 weeks or more — grew to 3.6 million in October, an increase of 1.2 million.

Share of unemployed who have been out of work 27 weeks or longer

By Ella Koeze·Data is seasonally adjusted.·Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

One-third of all unemployed workers now fall into the long-term category, the highest share since 2014. That could also spell trouble ahead, because the long-term unemployed often find it more difficult to find work again even as jobs become available.

What’s more, the government reported the number of people accepting part-time jobs because full-time work was unavailable grew by 383,000, to 6.7 million, an indication of increasing desperation.

Millions of unemployed workers have had a harder time paying bills since an emergency federal program providing $600 a week in additional benefits expired at the end of July. Another set of federal jobless benefits will last only through the end of the year.

The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning research group, estimates that more than 30 million workers have lost jobs or had their hours or pay reduced in the coronavirus-related downturn.

With the Senate remaining in Republican hands, as election returns suggest, any further relief will probably be more modest than the multitrillion-dollar package that seemed likely if a “blue wave” had given Democrats control of Congress and the White House. As a result, Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust in Chicago, has cut his estimate of growth next year by a full percentage point.

“The good news is that the U.S. job market is healing,” Mr. Tannenbaum said. “But full recuperation may take awhile.”

Unemployed Americans are gradually returning to the job market, with the labor force growing by 724,000 in October. The employment-population ratio, the share of adults who are working, rose to 57.4 percent from 56.6 percent in September — though it was still far short of the 61.2 percent recorded a year earlier.

Nicole Zappone of Naugatuck, Conn., is one of the lucky ones, after having returned to work in August following a harrowing six months of unemployment.

Credit…Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

“It was the worst part of my life,” said Ms. Zappone, 30, who took to reading novels by James Patterson and Michael Connelly to get through each day’s lonely hours. “I’ve been working since I was 14, and this was the first time I was laid off. And it was hard to comprehend.”

In years past, she had worked in a consignment shop and done babysitting and dog walking. Finding work had never been hard — until now.

Indeed, when she was let go as a substitute teacher in Waterbury, Conn., in March, she had no idea how severe the impact of the virus and the ensuing lockdown would be. By summer, she was applying for job after job on with no response.

“I felt like a failure, even though I knew it was beyond my control,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many jobs I applied for.”

When she got a nibble from a local information technology company for a public relations job, she couldn’t believe her luck. One week after a phone interview, she was hired for a 20-hour-a-week position that she hopes will become full time. She is working from home and has been in the office only once — to sign her contract.

“I love it,” she said. “I get to use my passion for writing and talk to people from all over the country.”

For others, regaining a job has been a bigger challenge.

Jodi Jackson, 57, worked as a buyer for J.C. Penney at the company’s headquarters in Plano, Texas, until she was laid off in April 2019. She has looked for a job as a buyer at other chains, with no success. And she has considered moving into another field.


Credit…Zerb Mellish for The New York Times

“I could do sales, and I’ve tried to switch, but unless you know somebody, it’s hard to get an interview,” Ms. Jackson said.

“I was born to be a buyer,” she added. “I would buy screws and nails for Home Depot at this point.”

Ms. Jackson worked for the Census Bureau for three months, but that job ended last month. “I don’t live above my means,” she said. She sold her condominium in Ann Arbor, Mich., before moving to Plano in 2019, she said, and has mostly been living off the proceeds of that sale. (She collected unemployment benefits after her J.C. Penney layoff, and may do so again based on the loss of the census job.)

She took a temporary job as a cashier at Macy’s during the holiday rush last year. “It was only $9.45 an hour, which was a fraction of what I earned at J.C. Penney,” she said. “But I wanted to work and to be around people. And retail is something I know.”

Ms. Jackson has ruled out another holiday season at Macy’s because the pay is too low. And despite the industry’s worsening problems, she hasn’t given up hope. On Wednesday, a retailer based in Plano asked her to come in for a third interview next week.

“I feel really positive,” she added. “I’m going to get a job.”

Jeanna Smialek contributed reporting.

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Young and Jobless in Europe: ‘It’s Been Desperate’

Like millions of young people across Europe, Rebecca Lee, 25, has suddenly found herself shut out of the labor market as the economic toll of the pandemic intensifies.

Her job as a personal assistant at a London architecture firm, where she had worked for two years, was eliminated in September, leaving her looking for work of any kind.

Ms. Lee, who has a degree in illustration from the University of Westminster, sent out nearly 100 job applications. After scores of rejections, and even being wait-listed for a food delivery gig at Deliveroo, she finally landed a two-month contract at a family-aid charity that pays 10 pounds (about $13) an hour.

“At the moment I will take anything I can get,” Ms. Lee said. “It’s been desperate.”

The coronavirus pandemic is rapidly fueling a new youth unemployment crisis in Europe. Young people are being disproportionately hit, economically and socially, by lockdown restrictions, forcing many to make painful adjustments and leaving policymakers grasping for solutions.

Years of job growth has eroded in a matter of months, leaving more than twice as many young people than other adults out of work. The jobless rate for people 25 and under jumped from 14.7 percent in January to 17.6 percent in August, its highest level since 2017.

Europe is not the only place where younger workers face a jobs crunch. Young Americans are especially vulnerable to the downturn. In China, young adults are struggling for jobs in the post-outbreak era. But in Europe, the pandemic’s economic impact puts an entire generation at risk, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Young people are overrepresented in sectors where jobs are disappearing, including travel, retail and hospitality. Graduates are facing unprecedented competition for even entry-level positions from a tsunami of newly laid-off workers.

The scarring effects may linger. “If you’re unemployed earlier on in your career, you’re more likely to experience joblessness in the future,” said Neal Kilbane, a senior economist at Oxford Economics.

The European Union is trying to cushion the blow by encouraging businesses to recruit young people. But such programs may have little impact as Europe confronts its worst recession since World War II.

Europeans coming of age in the pandemic are lowering their expectations of the jobs and careers they can get. Many are resorting to internships, living with parents or returning to school to ride out the storm. Young workers without higher education risk sliding even further.

Credit…Gianfranco Tripodo for The New York Times


Alvaro Castillo Sierra knew something was amiss when he was asked to certify during a March job interview that he wasn’t living with someone who had Covid-19. At PVH, the Amsterdam clothing retailer where he had hoped to land a coveted marketing position, there were no handshakes.

He realized an economic crisis linked to the pandemic was imminent.

Mr. Castillo Sierra, 25, had worked diligently since graduating from a top Spanish university in 2018 to lay the groundwork for a dream career in the retail or cosmetics industry.

Armed with an economics degree, he crunched financial data at a Madrid bank consultancy, then worked in a paid internship at the cosmetics giant L’Oréal, helping to manage and analyze brand budgets and campaigns.

In February, he moved to Amsterdam and landed interviews with PVH, Adidas and other big retailers. His excitement grew when PVH invited him for a second interview in March.

When the coronavirus hit, the position was pulled back.

“I had all these interviews with great companies,” Mr. Castillo Sierra said. “But then the rhythm stopped.” His days were soon consumed with trawling LinkedIn for job openings, which dwindled rapidly. Instead of entry-level posts, more internships were listed.

Mr. Castillo Sierra returned to Madrid in July to live with his parents and took another internship, this time with 3INA, a vegan cosmetics brand, where he assists with the company’s marketing program and is paid less than 600 euros (about $700) a month.

He enrolled in an online master’s degree course in digital marketing, in hopes of increasing his chances at employment should the market recover.

“I have experience, and it’s a struggle to find work,” Mr. Castillo Sierra said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for other young people.”


Credit…Elena Heatherwick for The New York Times


Despite a government furlough program designed to limit unemployment, hundreds of thousands of workers were laid off in Britain just as Alicia Davis entered the job market.

Ms. Davis, who had earned a master’s degree in psychology, was soon competing with a rapidly expanding pool of unemployed candidates with work experience she didn’t have. Many were angling to secure any kind of job — including entry-level positions that are traditionally the steppingstone to careers for new graduates.

“I started to think, ‘Oh, God, it will be more difficult than I initially thought,’” said Ms. Davis, 22, who has moved back into her parents’ home northwest of London.

When she applied for a human resources position at a London company, she learned that 800 others were seeking the same job, many with senior management experience.

Ms. Davis recently took a four-week gig conducting surveys for a car company. It pays Britain’s minimum wage of £8.20 an hour.

The work leaves her with less time to push out job applications, and she wonders when she will get an opportunity to start a career in occupational psychology.

“I know at some point I will get a job, hopefully related to what I want to do,” Ms. Davis said. “But I feel like I’m a year behind where I should be.”


Credit…Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times


At 15, Mario Palumbo, who grew up in public housing near Naples, dropped out of high school to support his mother and sister after his father died, taking temporary low-paid jobs as a mover and a house painter and at construction sites.

But in recent years, Mr. Palumbo, 33, who is passionate about food, was proud to have forged something of a steady career as a cook. Having worked his way from coffee carrier to waiter, and then to assistant chef at trattorias around Naples, he was hired in September last year on a temporary contract as a chef running a station at a trendy restaurant.

When the pandemic hit Italy in February, his contract wasn’t renewed. Jobs were so scarce that the Italian Mafia fanned out around his neighborhood, trying to recruit gofers from scores of unemployed young people. Unemployment rates across Italy rose to 9.7 percent in August.

Unable to find work, Mr. Palumbo started relying on his mother’s €300 basic income check. He eventually found an off-the-books job in May at a restaurant in Calabria, 300 kilometers from home. But when the coronavirus resurfaced in August, the position was cut. This week, as infection cases spiked, restaurants throughout Italy were ordered to shut at 6 p.m., dealing a further blow to jobs.

Mr. Palumbo said his sole hope had been to move to Italy’s more prosperous north. But his finances are so thin that he can’t afford the train ticket or rent there. So he is staying put.

“I have energy, and I know how to roll up my sleeves at any sort of job,” Mr. Palumbo said. “But everything is stuck, and my hands are tied.”


Credit…Sabine Mirlesse for The New York Times


Elise Lauriot Prevost took a gamble when she decided to pursue a master’s degree in human rights two years ago.

Friends in her undergraduate class of 2018 had found jobs quickly in an economy that was finally on an upswing after Europe’s financial crisis. But in the competitive world of humanitarian work, earning an advanced degree seemed like the best way in — even if it meant thousands of euros in student loan debt.

The bet didn’t pay off.

Today, Ms. Lauriot Prevost, 23, is grappling with how to pay back over €90,000 — more than $100,000 — in university tuition after her applications for more than 70 jobs hit dead ends.

“I went to grad school to further my career, and now I’m graduating in the middle of a pandemic,” said Ms. Lauriot Prevost, who received her master’s degree at the Paris Institute of Political Studies in June.

When an internship at a Paris law firm surfaced, she grabbed it. The victims’ rights cases there are the type she wants to handle, and her workload of 75 hours a week is about that of a full-time lawyer. Yet the pay, €600 a month, hardly makes a dent in her debts.

Ms. Lauriot Prevost faces an additional financial burden after moving from her grandparents’ home into a small apartment during France’s national quarantine, so as not to endanger their health.

To earn extra cash, she babysits occasionally and would tend bar at night if she could. But her current workload leaves her exhausted with little time to spare.

“I’m super stressed. I need to find a job immediately to be able to pay my rent and my loans,” she said. “But I absolutely don’t have any free time — even to apply for jobs.”


Credit…Myrto Papadopoulos for The New York Times


Christina Penteridou feels that she has no future in Greece.

Ms. Penteridou, 21, graduated in July with a filmmaking degree from the University of Westminster in London, and was directing her first independent film, a fantasy-thriller, when the coronavirus hit. She returned to her hometown, Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, in March and began looking for entry-level production jobs.

But the search is so grueling that she is searching for ways to leave her country again.

“Greece can’t offer me a future,” said Ms. Penteridou, who was proud to have established an independent life in London during the last three years. Now, she is unemployed and living again with her parents.

Greece had just started to recover from a decade-long financial crisis when the pandemic delivered a fresh blow. Some of the nearly half a million young Greeks who left to find jobs were returning as an improving economy created new opportunities — including in long underfunded areas like the arts.

But jobs in those sectors were among the first to dry up in the latest crisis.

By the time Ms. Penteridou began looking in Greece, many productions had stopped. Those that resumed cut the numbers of people on set.

“They don’t have money to spare for someone in an entry-level position, especially at a time like this,” Ms. Penteridou said.

She recently did a photo shoot for a clothing brand to earn income, and will soon teach film seminars to young people. But the pay is so thin that she is looking for work as a waitress while she remains in Greece.


Credit…Elena Heatherwick for The New York Times


When Tariro Madzingira’s marketing job wound down during the pandemic, she knew that landing new work would be a struggle. Many of her peers seemed bewildered about how to navigate an increasingly volatile labor market.

Instead of panicking, Ms. Madzingira, 24, took matters into her own hands.

She returned from London to her parents’ home in Birmingham and enrolled in an eight-week career coaching course. She sharpened her interviewing skills, targeted career planning strategies and strengthened her confidence.

She is now coaching other graduates online for free, helping them hone their career searches and overcome the anxiety that comes with being a part of generation Covid-19.

“A lot of graduates that I’ve spoken to are doing so many applications and feeling really flustered,” Ms. Madzingira said. “I want to help them stop being panicked, and to understand that they do have some control.”

Ms. Madzingira, who is Black, knows what it means to overcome hurdles.

“It’s increased pressure when you know that in the workplace Black people are treated differently,” she said.

She has channeled the pressure into motivation. When a dream job at a creative marketing firm went to a more experienced candidate, Ms. Madzingira took an unpaid online internship at the company instead to get her foot in the door, in the hope of landing a permanent role.

But when she logs off from her internship, she pivots back to working with young people in similar straits.

“It makes me really happy because it’s purposeful work,” she said.

Iliana Magra and Emma Bubola contributed reporting.

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