Though the COVID-19 pandemic has led to hiring surges in various sectors, the number of job applicants has often far outstripped the number of jobs available in a time when the country has seen record unemployment claims. All this could mean a small uptick in employment in certain industries, experts say, but it will likely do little to counterbalance what has the potential to be one of the greatest recessions since the Great Depression.
Grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals and big-box retailers are hiring thousands of employees on Long Island and beyond to deal with the particular challenges of operating during a global health crisis. But unemployment in New York and the nation eclipsed those hiring surges.
In the direst of projections, layoffs and business closures could cost as many as 47 million jobs, according to estimates from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis — an over 32% unemployment rate and seven percentage points greater than the unemployment rate at the height of the Great Depression.
“[We’re] in unprecedented times,” said Mariano Torras, department chair of finance and economics at Adelphi. “[Few] of us know or have experienced what it was like during the Great Depression. This is a much more severe downturn than what we saw 11, 12 years ago. …We’re going to have some lean times ahead.”
Food, pharmacies, health care
Still, there are thousands of jobs available locally, though many are temporary. Uncle Giuseppe’s, the Farmingdale-based grocery chain, had over 20 jobs listed as of Thursday, ranging from graphic designer to seafood clerk, and applications are pouring in at a far greater rate than they did pre-pandemic, said spokeswoman Jillian Gundy.
CVS, which had committed to hiring 50,000 workers, has thousands of listings on Long Island, and has received over 1.1 million job applications nationwide, according to Joe Goode, a CVS spokesman. Around 47,000 of those jobs have either already been filled or are deep into the hiring process, he said.
Insurance is another sector experiencing a need, though there, too, there are often more applicants than jobs. New York Life’s Long Island office is “actively recruiting,” said managing partner John Curry, with an over 130% increase in applicants in the last month.
“COVID-19 has created renewed interest both in life insurance and in the important role agents play in securing this protection for Long Island families,” Curry said.
Since March 16, Amazon has seen an increase of 150% in applications and has already hired 2,800 employees in New York, said Rachael Lighty, an Amazon spokeswoman. It expects to hire 2,000 more in New York, she said.
But not all job openings are created equal, said James Essey, the president and CEO of TemPositions, a regional staffing agency that helped provide nurses for the Javitz Center temporary hospital. At his company, applications have remained steady, he said, but they need more applicants in certain positions — ICU nurses or direct care workers, for instance — while they're seeing an uptick in applicants in other sectors, like warehouse, manufacturing and hospitality. The company has gone from filling 3,000 positions a week pre-pandemic, to 1,000 positions a week now.
And hospitals are still searching for hires. Even with the looming threat of COVID-19, people are eager to help, said Judy Howard, vice president of talent acquisition at Northwell Health. There’s been an 11% increase in applicants since the pandemic began in earnest in New York, Howard said — 51,000 in January and February, to 57,000 from March 1 to April 28.
The number of hires has “increased tremendously” she said, though the situation is fluid, and so the type of job needs are, too. During the apex, the focus was on ICU and emergency staff, but as the curve begins to flatten, the high-demand areas include dialysis, operating room staff and home care. Many of the jobs are temporary.
But a temporary job is better than no job. Even with stimulus checks, Torras said, people without jobs won't put that money back into the economy. “People who don’t have jobs, they don’t want to spend money. Then that means fewer goods and services produced in the economy, fewer jobs and so on, and this is the kind of thing — like in the 1930s — where the economy can get stuck in equilibrium, and an equilibrium that is not good.”
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