Tens of millions of Americans have filed for unemployment in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, and industries like leisure and hospitality were hit the hardest, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. After four or six weeks of lockdown in some places, many employees are asking when they can get back to work.
The federal government is rolling out a three-step plan to safely reopen the economy, and states are figuring out their own economic timelines even while battling the pandemic. To some degree, though, the economy will rebound in response to decisions made by individual consumers.
"When you look at the percentage of the population that's 65 and over," says Russell Price, chief economist at Ameriprise, "those people are going to be reluctant to want to go out to restaurants, or movies, or sporting events, or any crowded venue."
That's partly why the answer of when things will go back to normal is so complicated. Some determining factors are specific to location and how bad the outbreak has been in a particular area. Some are specific to the needs and demands of different industries. And some come back to how reluctant consumers are to leave the house.
All the same, economists gave us their best estimates as to when workers in five industries hit hard by the pandemic might be able to get back to work.
Eateries like bars and restaurants were "devastated" by the outbreak, says Ernie Tedeschi, economist at financial advisory firm Evercore, and many small businesses within the sector may be shuttering for good. That said, "I think [those that are still open] will be among the first to start gradually coming back," he says.
How, exactly, that happens depends on location. Municipalities and even bar and restaurant owners themselves taking various precautions to keep their staffs and customers safe.
Given all of that, "I would think only between 10% and 20% of restaurant workers could expect a call back by the end of June," says Tedeschi.
Video by Stephen Parkhurst
Retail will a "see stronger recovery than many of the other industries," says Price. "There's not a whole lot of difference [between] going to a department store [and] a grocery store. And people are generally comfortable now with going to grocery stores."
There may be new regulations in place curtailing the number of customers who can be in a store at once, for example, "but a quarter to half" of retail workers can expect a call from their employers "on the early side, so late May, early June," says Tedeschi.
"The segments that have various layers of interaction [between people]," says Price, "will find a slow recovery." That includes the travel industry, in which both workers and customers are constantly interacting with dozens or even hundreds of people from all over the world.
Video by Courtney Stith
Price believes that jobs in plants and factories "should be able to get back up to speed fairly quickly," adding that "the demand for those things that are being produced should be quite solid as well." Indeed, some automakers are aiming to reopen their plants in early May, and President Trump ordered meatpacking plants to remain open in April.
Tedeschi expects a quarter to a half of factory workers to be called back to work by the end of July, with more and more coming back after that.
Ultimately, many sectors and businesses will wait for word from public health officials about when it will be safe to reopen and under what conditions. "We need to get confidence from our public health experts that we can begin the process of re-interacting with one another," says Tedeschi. "Because, of course, what is an economy if not a lot of people interacting with one another and exchanging goods and services?"
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