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With rising concerns that temporary layoffs are turning into permanent job losses, economists worry what this will mean for workers at the bottom rungs of the labor market — those with the fewest skills and the lowest pay.

Workers in low-skill industries like restaurants and bars will need retraining to be hired in sectors like manufacturing, construction or technology, said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.

“It’s not easy to switch,” she said. “We are at risk of structural damage to the labor market.”

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Ms. Farooqi also warned that the mounting number of school closings would make it difficult for parents — particularly mothers — to re-enter the work force, causing more lasting damage to the labor market.

For Curtis Hoover, the freelance designing gig came just in time. His regular state unemployment benefits had run out, as had the weekly $600 supplement that Congress approved to help jobless workers make it through the pandemic. He was still eligible for payments under an emergency extension of benefits for 13 weeks, but the clock was ticking on that assistance as well.

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“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Mr. Hoover, who got his first assignment this week. “I’m very grateful that I can work in my safe environment, although it’s odd jumping in as a team member when you have never met the team face to face.”

Mr. Hoover, who is 57 and lives in Reading, Pa., lost his job as a graphic designer last year. His search for new work got off to a slow start. He had an interview the week before the shutdowns — and remembers debating whether he should shake hands at the meeting — but it went nowhere. Two other interviews were canceled in the following weeks.

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Last month, as the expiration of the $600 supplement loomed, he prepared for the steep cut in income. He pared his spending, canceling Netflix, ending his gym membership, and shopping more carefully at the supermarket.


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