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US workers seeking jobless aid near 40M (bbc.com)
46 points by sahin-boydas 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 24 comments





For context, this is roughy 25 percent of the US working age population (~157 million people [1]). BLS participation rate date can be found here [2], but will have some lag to it.

[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/08/29/facts-about...

[2] https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS11300000


For more context, the highest previously recorded was 24.9%, during the Great Depression.

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Comparing a fraud ring from Nigeria to the entire working population of Nigeria is not a good look.

I'm not an economics nor employment expert so can someone who knows more about this explain to me what the projections are for the next 6 months?

Are the majority of these people expected to find work again at the same (or better) pay?

Are these lost jobs primarily "low skill" jobs? Or are there a lot of white collar jobs being lost as well?

Obviously I see the stories about some tech companies letting people go but the numbers are tiny compared to the numbers discussed in articles like this.

Just for clarification I am not American so I am asking as an outsider who is quite shocked when I see statements like "a quarter of the US working age population".

Where I am, France, there have been some job losses however nothing close to the numbers I see in America. My gut reaction to such numbers is worrying, perhaps even terrifying, but I know very little about how things work in America so is this a case of the media playing with the numbers when in reality that number will drop back to normal levels soon or is this a true unemployment disaster for the long term?


Many industries which employed these workers will not recover for a very long time (if ever).

It also introduces the need for companies to automate operations, as a way to hedge the risk of employees getting sick (or making customers feel safer interacting with robots).

The other thing to consider is that during boom periods (like the previous one), headcount is filled, regardless of whether the position is needed. Often times one person can do the work of 6, but the department/company wants to appear like it’s growing so it will hire 6. Now that economic belt is tightening, we’ll see more bare bones skeleton crews.

So between those three things I think it will be highly unlikely that we return to pre-covid unemployment levels for quite some time (if ever).


David Graeber wrote about bullshit jobs - including those you describe.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullshit_Jobs

We have all been in offices where there are bullshit jobs. If these jobs go then it will be a while before they come back. These jobs are a bit like the junk that collects on your computer, filling up space and doing nothing. All of it was important once. But then you move to a new computer, install your software and project files to get on with work never needing the detritus again.


I had not heard of this book but just grabbed it on Kindle and read the Preface and holy shit yes. So many bullshit jobs.

The first thing to pop into my head is a conversation with my wife a few weeks ago about a couple of people she works with. They are "directors" in the company but my wife has always commented that their jobs are literally pointless. They "champion" things but never actually get involved other than to be updated on what is happening.

Basically they spent their time flying around the world for meetings but in terms of real output they never actually had anything to show. They always claimed to be "so busy it is crazy!" but never seemed to produce any quantifiable results. It seemed the positions existed because it is just expected at a big video game company would have a lot of super talented people at director level. Why I don't know, I guess because at some point they were actually useful?

Since working from home and being unable to travel for these super important meetings a few of these people are losing their minds as they have nothing to do and surprise! everything else is going along just fine. The teams all communicate as needed. Deliveries have still been made on time, etc. Sure there has been some impacts with contractors and suppliers being shut but nothing internal has been impacted.

My wife is secretly hoping these positions evaporate as they have no demonstrable benefit to the business. For almost 3 months these people have done literally nothing and nobody has noticed.


This is what I had assumed. With businesses closing some jobs are literally lost.

Talking with friends and family I have realised most of us have changed how we plan to do things in the future. E.g. going out less will have a big impact on restaurants, cafes, cinemas, etc.

If a lot of people feel the same as I/we do it will make recovery for such businesses harder.

I see a lot of people talking about things "returning to normal" once the lockdown is lifted but I just can't see that happening. In my opinion this virus has fundamentally changed how many, many people will go about their lives for much longer than the lockdown.

Perhaps I am wrong but it seems (most?) American politicians expect all of these jobs will magically return in a few weeks once states open up to how they were before?


> Are these lost jobs primarily "low skill" jobs? Or are there a lot of white collar jobs being lost as well?

The government posts stats [0]. For the more blue/white collar work: Education, training and library occupations is at 14.0%, Arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupations is at 18.6% hit which is not surprising as all sports are pretty much cancelled currently.

The service industry was really hit though at 27.1%. Food preparation and serving related occupations is at 41%, Personal care and service occupations is at 39% for example.

[0]: https://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cpseea30.htm


> Are the majority of these people expected to find work again at the same (or better) pay?

> Are these lost jobs primarily "low skill" jobs? Or are there a lot of white collar jobs being lost as well?

Many Jobs May Vanish Forever as Layoffs Mount: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/21/business/economy/coronavi...

> The economy that does come back is likely to look quite different from the one that closed. If social distancing rules become the new normal, causing thinner crowds in restaurants, theaters and stores, at sports arenas, and on airplanes, then fewer workers will be required.

> Large companies already expect more of their workers to continue to work remotely and say they plan to reduce their real estate footprint, which will reduce the foot traffic that feeds nearby restaurants, shops, nail salons and other businesses.

> Concerns about working in close quarters and too much social interaction could also accelerate the trend toward automation, some economists say.

> New jobs are being created, mostly at low wages — for delivery drivers, warehouse workers and cleaners. But many more jobs will vanish.


It is an unmitigated disaster.

Prior to the lockdowns, there were ~120 million people in the workforce. One-third has been knocked out, so the current workforce is 80 million, thus 50% of the current workforce has applied for unemployment. The last week's numbers indicate that just over 2% of the workforce was lost, which is the lowest percentage yet, but only a little lower than the previous week's. It is only so many more weeks we have left to have a percentage that can leave the workforce. There have never been millions of people losing their jobs in a week, now it is every week.

There are regular stories about restaurants opening, but when I read them I can see clearly the restaurants are unlikely to be able to survive profitably under the new rules. I'm not sure what the rules look like for other employers.

Are manufacturers going to be required to retool their entire production line to meet these requirements? This is more likely to lead the manufacturer to at least temporarily shut down, if not permanently.

How are apparel stores supposed to make money? And wedding gown makers? Is no one to try on clothes before purchase any more? These businesses will likely remain closed until the full ramifications of the new legislation are made clear.

I'm sure there are many examples of these things everywhere, so likely what will happen is businesses will just open and ignore the rules, and with such rampant rule-breaking either entire city staff are converted to rule enforcement, or the rules are selectively enforced (e.g., cronies shut down competitors), though even that won't work out because employees will sue employers out of business.

Employees let-go due to lockdowns are making some nice free money, and incentivizing them to go back to work before their free money dries up is incredibly difficult. It's not a clear equation, but the employee is looking at incremental earnings, meaning that going to work for 40 hours may not be worth an extra $150 in take home, so either the employer has to offer more or wait until someone comes in to work.

There is also the still undiscussed issue of the rolling regional lockdowns that Fauci and others described earlier in all of this. I suspect most people, including business owners, did not catch these stories and it seems like they've been a bit memory-holed, but if they do enact such policies, then I suspect there will be a domino effect where other businesses choose to close before they are further in arrears.

There are also secondary effects coming in the form of incredible government budget deficits. The likely policy response will be more debt and increased taxes, but this typically makes business growth more sluggish.


That is a truly worrying reply to read but on first read appears to make a lot of sense.

I have spent the last few minutes searching for some kind of government response to this and all I can find is basically along the lines of "lift lockdown, reopen and things will go back to how they were, these numbers are just temporary".

Is this really the official government position on the matter? Seems they are saying re-open with a few new measures in place to encourage distancing and it will all be fine??

That really does not make much sense to me.


I guess I'm not sure what government position you were expecting. There's no way to write a complete recovery timeline at this point, when we don't even know what the pandemic is going to look like in a few months. Lifting lockdowns will solve the "people aren't legally allowed to work" problem, which is surely the biggest obstacle to people working. Then we'll solve other problems as they arise.

If you're reading the government plan as a claim that July will look just like January, I don't think that's what anyone expects.


We are staring to make some tentative steps in the UK, schools are due to open soon. The problem is teachers and their unions are resisting this. I suspect it is going to be a lot harder than people think to get things moving again.

This is why I've thought all along the arguments about lockdowns and their economic damage are a bit of a red herring. My local cafe was emptying before they were told to shut down, I expect that was the case everywhere.


Makes you wonder if all the trials of universal basic income would be viewed differently in light of current events as a model better suited to handle the bumps in life and with that, overall make things more stable.

A global economic collapse and mass unemployment is exactly when the funding models for UBI undergo a catastrophic meltdown. So, we need wonder no more.

This response makes no sense. We don’t cancel unemployment, social security, etc in these instances. UBI is meant to replace these programs and by giving everyone a guaranteed income even in bad times, it allows some certainty at the household level which reduces stress and keeps consumption higher to keep the economy from melting down into a depression.

Unemployment is pre-funded through unemployment insurance taxes for the working years of the recipient. Social Security is pre-funded through SS taxes for the working years of the recipient.

UBI is pre-funded by...? Nothing?


Well, as UBI would moot unemployment payments and Social security payments, then I'm curious why you would feel that nothing would fund it.

Those two don't even begin to cover anything near a UBI needs.

Do a simple estimate of how you think UBI would work and cost, and be sure that it doesn't screw those already on SS, and post here. Every single place I've seen the math worked out it needs either massive tax increases, screws the needy already on some form of targeted assistance, or is woefully low.

And I've never seen one that is "universal." All are merely ways to tax the working to fund the unworking.


> Those two don't even begin to cover anything near a UBI needs.

Agreed, but then it's not a black hole as it will be spent, incurring sales taxes, feed into companies, taxation again. So a fair percentage will already feedback.

However, the tax system needs fixing before that and many loopholes need closing and the whole system simplified as the current complexes mess just creates loopholes that those with lots of money can and do abuse. So until the whole tax system is sorted, many things will just fail or become another bolt-on kludge and doomed to fail.

> be sure that it doesn't screw those already on SS, and post here

Not sure how you would discern that, but a rather glib thing to be saying and naive at a time when many will be out of work. Though I'm sure that was not the intention and probably better of with a quote by Margaret Thatcher “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.”


Isn’t one of the key premises of UBI is that ever-increasing will (arguably, has) lead to a massive economic surplus that would then be redistributed via some mechanism(s)?

The US population is 320 million, with a current workforce of about 80 million.

The 240 million are essentially on a form of basic income right now, whether being support by unemployment insurance, EITC, a working spouse, being a child, or a senior (social security)

Actual UBI isn't really that far from the current situation.


Exactly, just removes so much of the bureaucracy and overheads.

Though if Americans had a choice of UBI or a National health service - free for all, what would they pick if they could only pick one of those? I reckon they would go for national health service over UBI if it was a binary choice.




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