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A Glimpse into the Post-Pandemic Employment Landscape

November 24, 2021

To perform a valid and reliable earning capacity evaluation, one must utilize peer-reviewed
methodology and have a thorough and up-to-date understanding of the labor market. As such,
VDI experts have actively and regularly sought out information related to how the COVID-19
pandemic has affected the employment landscape to date, as well as what trends predict future
impacts on an individual’s employment options, wages, and work life expectancy.

Check out our recent blog post for information we gathered from recently published literature,
the American Time Use Survey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and reputable news sources to
enhance our understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic has already changed, and may
continue changing, the U.S. employment landscape. Though the data available now is
understandably considered preliminary, we think it worthwhile to share what we have learned
from our research and discuss how we see these pandemic-related shifts affecting earning
capacity evaluations moving forward.

An earning capacity evaluation is an evaluation of a plaintiff’s ability to work and earn wages
prior to and following the event that is the subject of litigation. To perform a valid and reliable
evaluation, one must utilize peer-reviewed methodology and have a thorough and up-to-date
understanding of the labor market. As such, VDI experts have actively and regularly sought out
information related to how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the employment landscape to
date, as well as what trends predict future impacts on an individual’s employment options,
wages, and work life expectancy. Though the data available now is understandably considered
preliminary, we think it worthwhile to share what we have learned from our research and discuss
how we see these pandemic-related shifts affecting earning capacity evaluations moving forward.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant changes in the way Americans socialize, work, and
live. As a reminder, COVID-19 was declared a national emergency on March 13, 2020, and a
stay-at-home order was in place in every U.S. state by April 2020. This created unprecedented
economic strain, as millions of workers were suddenly unable to report to their offices or
establishments and students were unable to attend school. Though it appears the worst is over,
with regard to social distancing and mandatory business closures (knock on wood), the overall
impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on job losses, workplace reconfiguration, and employer-
employee relationships cannot be overstated.

The impact, as of now, of the COVID-19 pandemic on employment and the labor market is
notable and variable. As of December 2020, counter to what many might have expected,
occupational fields traditionally regarded as strong, such as health care, had seen a reduction of
527,000 workers compared to February 2020, whereas increases in employment for professional
and business services, transportation, and manufacturing were appreciated over this same time
(Wolf, 2020). Other industries that have experienced significant losses since February 2020
include government, retail, leisure/entertainment, hospitality/food service, and real estate (Wolf,
2020). Understandably, the unequal effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on employment industries
maps on to the variable geographic effect. Las Vegas, for example, as a mecca for leisure and
hospitality, experienced an increase in unemployment of nearly eight percentage points from
November 2019 to November 2020—almost five percentage points higher than the nation as a
whole (BLS, 2020). By contrast, almost a quarter of Washington, D.C.’s employment is in
government, a sector that performed better in November 2020 compared to 2019, and because of
this, D.C. faced the second smallest increase in unemployment among a comparison of
metropolitan areas (BLS, 2020).

On July 22, 2021, the American Time Use Survey released a report comparing how Americans
spent time pre-COVID (May to December 2019) to time spent during COVID (May to
December 2020), with the following employment-related results:

  • Average time spent working declined by 17 minutes per day from 2019 to 2020,
    reflecting a decrease in the share of the population that was employed;

    • On a given day in 2020, 39 percent of the population spent time working, compared with 43 percent of the population in 2019;
  • As many employers expanded the use of telework, the percent of employed persons
    working at home on days they worked nearly doubled, rising from 22 percent in 2019 to
    42 percent in 2020;

    • On days they worked at home, employed persons did so for an average of 3.6
      hours in 2019, compared with 5.8 hours in 2020;
  • Workers with higher levels of education were much more likely to work at home in 2020
    than were those who had less education;

    • Among workers age 25 and over, 65 percent of employed persons with a
      bachelor’s degree or higher worked at home on days they worked in 2020 (up
      from 37 percent in 2019), compared with 19 percent of employed persons whose
      highest level of education was a high school diploma (up from 13 percent in
      2019);
  • By industry, from 2019 to 2020, there were large increases in the share of employed
    persons working at home on days worked for those employed in financial activities (up
    40 percentage points); professional and business services (up 25 percentage points); and
    education and health services (up 23 percentage points);

    • By contrast, there were smaller increases for workers in leisure and hospitality (up
      8 percentage points); transportation and utilities (up 9 percentage points);
      wholesale and retail trade (up 10 percentage points); and manufacturing (up 11
      percentage points).

Obviously, much has already changed about where, when, and how Americans work because of
the COVID-19 pandemic, and when considering what these recent shifts in the employment
landscape mean for earning capacity, it is crucial to understand that not every American has been
affected equally. The dichotomization of “essential” versus “non-essential” work, which
emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, inevitably changed the social value of certain
occupations and, in doing so, strengthened the association between occupational and socio-
economic status (Kramer and Kramer, 2000). Pinsker (2020) highlighted two different pandemic
experiences: the first are individuals who were able to work from home but who experienced
high levels of stress related to childcare, fear of leaving home, and social isolation; the second
are individuals who were unable to work from home, forcing them to place themselves at
increased risk for exposure to contracting the virus and increasing their risk for layoffs and
negative financial impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Although both groups have been
negatively affected, Pinsker (2020) suggests the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the second
group more with regard to income, social status, and health outcomes. Further, pre-pandemic
unemployed workers, those who had not yet entered the labor force (i.e., recent graduates),
workers displaced due to injury, individuals with disabilities, and those who lost their jobs
because of the pandemic are more susceptible to having their average lifetime earnings depressed
as a direct result of the pandemic (Cary et al., 2021). In contrast, it is anticipated that those who
continued to be employed during the pandemic-induced recession will likely see minimal to no
change in their earning capacity over time (Cary et al., 2021). With regard to when these effects might end, The Economist (May 2, 2020) outlined the most positive scenario in which it takes
half a decade to return to pre-pandemic rates, with a full recovery taking up to two decades.

One potentially positive effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is the explosion of “gig work,” which
has been defined as a type of temporary contract work connecting self-employed workers
directly with clients by a digital platform (Ashford et al., 2018). Examples of gig work include
freelance graphic design, pet sitting and dog walking, driving for Uber or Lyft, food delivery,
and consulting. On the one hand, gig work allows for greater autonomy and flexibility, which is
increasingly important to American workers; however, the downside, historically, includes less
stability in terms of frequency and amount of pay, precarious work conditions, and less job
security. Interestingly, both the benefits and downsides of gig work have been exacerbated by the
pandemic, though, as mentioned, the net result of the pandemic has been an increase in the
number of employees participating in the gig economy. Knowledge about the gig economy,
including trends in the determined value of specific gig jobs and employer-gig worker
relationships, is important for being able to accurately opine on what type of work an individual
might be capable of doing post-injury. This is particularly true because the gig economy
generally appears to accommodate for the type of issues often faced by plaintiffs returning to
work post-injury, such as the need to work remotely, within physical restrictions, and with the
flexibility to attend necessary appointments. Thus far, employers have become more open to
remote and accommodated work opportunities, suggesting the possibility that they may indeed
become more plentiful as the labor market evolves (Cary et al., 2021).

Relatedly, training and educational programs have been re-designed to adapt to pandemic-related
changes, with many previously in-person requirements moved to online-based programs. It
stands to reason that, generally, the switch to an online format will increase equitable access to
these programs, which may benefit individuals who otherwise would not be able to seek a post-
secondary degree, certification, or training program due to mental or physical limitations.

With regard to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employee career trajectories, Cary et
al., 2020, noted that, “all workers, regardless of industry or time on the job, experienced some
sort of ‘career shock’ as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A career shock is defined as “a
disruptive and extraordinary event that is, at least to some degree, caused by factors outside the
focal individual’s control, and that triggers a deliberate thought process concerning one’s career”
(Ackkermans et al., 2020, p. 428). Experiencing a career shock typically has negative short-term
effects, such as decreased income and career satisfaction, but there is suspicion that over time
some, if not many, employees will end up more successful and satisfied due to their proactive
reactions to the career shock of the COVID-19 pandemic (Cary et al., 2020).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, arguably one of the leading resources for information regarding
employment trends, has urged experts to reference their 2019 to 2029 projections with caution,
as they have not adjusted those projections according to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This speaks to the fact that much remains to be determined with regard to how the employment
landscape will look in the future, both in terms of what employment sectors will adapt and
survive, and how Americans will view their employment options. As experts in the field of vocational and earning capacity analyses, we are dedicated to continuing to monitor relevant
trends, such as:

  • Whether remote work remains available;
  • Whether jobs deemed “non-essential” are eliminated;
  • How and where gig work expands;
  • How individuals with disabilities are impacted vocationally;
  • What role technology plays to culturally and socially impact employment;
  • Whether recently formed expectations related to work-life balance endure; and,
  • What earnings are seen in new and adapted employment industries.

As we learn more through ongoing research on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on
employment, earning capacity, and vocational outcome, we will integrate any relevant
information into our approach to these analyses to ensure our opinions continue to be valid,
reliable, and current.


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