Todd Leff watched both his thriving livelihood and a growing economy come to a shocking halt nearly two months ago due to the coronavirus.
Now, he’s hoping that as states and communities slowly start coming back online, his own fortunes as well as those of the rest of the country will start to improve.
Leff, the CEO of Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa, has seen this before, through the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and the financial crisis that exploded in 2008.
Both times, he’s heard much talk of things getting back to normal after largely unforeseen disruptions. But if he learned anything from the two seminal crises, it’s that things never really do return as they were.
“We never got back to normal. We created a new way of doing business,” he said. “We will have that happen here as well. We have a resilient economy.”
Leff spoke the same day as the world digested some of the most devastating economic news in U.S. history: The Labor Department reported that businesses shed 20.5 million workers from payrolls during April as the unemployment rate climbed to 14.7%, both numbers well beyond anything the country has seen since World War II. They were far worse than the financial crisis or 9/11 and a testament to just how much of a depressant the coronavirus containment measures have been to activity.
But they also are backward-looking. More current numbers, like weekly jobless claims, are showing that even though the damage is still awful, the worst is likely behind.
That’s where entrepreneurs like Leff come in.
Temporary for many, but not all
One bright spot from the jobs report was that 18.1 million of the layoffs were reported as temporary. So while some jobs won’t be coming back after the lockdown, most, at least for now, will.
Leff has begun reopening some of the more than 450 Hand & Stone franchise operations that were shut, and he’s calling back some workers as locations open in Georgia, Utah, Colorado, Texas and Florida.
Running a literally hands-on business poses its own challenges in the coroanvirus climate, but intense safety precautions the company is taking appear to be paying off.
“Our intent is to call back really the vast majority or maybe all our workers,” he said. “From our early state reopenings, we’re actually seeing very encouraging numbers, both on the consumer side and the willingness of employees to come back to work.”
Not everyone is so eager.
There are some workers at fast-food restaurants and other businesses who are earning more being unemployed under a government rescue program than they did on the job. They have been reluctant to return, according to several executives at job placement firms who spoke to CNBC.
“People are actually making more in unemployment than they would if they went back to work and exposed themselves to the Covid disease. One of the things we’re seeing is a lot of the small businesses, a lot of these front-line companies, are having a difficult time in getting their employees back,” said Irina Novoselsky, CEO at CareerBuilder.
An opportunity for seniors
In some cases, senior citizens, themselves an especially at-risk population, are taking those jobs.
“People over 65 actually are looking for jobs,” Novoselsky said. “An increasing amount of people are coming back to work in pretty unprecedented numbers.”
Indeed, Daniel Jan is looking to hire 1,500 such folks for his business, Seniors Helping Seniors, a franchise operation based in Reading, Pennsylvania, that matches up older caregivers with those in need of help.
There’s been a big demand for the services during the pandemic as the nursing home system has taken a black eye due to a high mortality rate in the facilities. In Jan’s state, 2,458 of the 3,616 deaths, or 68%, have occurred in nursing homes, according to the Department of Health in Pennsylvania, which has some of the most stringent stay-at-home rules in the country.
“It’s created an opportunity for those seniors again, giving them an opportunity to continue working while also giving something back,” Jan said. “There’s this perception now that facility-based care is less safe. We are the alternative. On one hand, they’re part of the highest-risk group. On the other hand, if they’re home self-isolating, they are isolated and become lonely and they become depressed and need someone to check on them. Thankfully, we are deemed an essential service.”
‘If you don’t pivot, you die’
It’s not just seniors, though, who have new working opportunities.
While social distancing requirements aimed at saving lives continue to crush jobs, there are new occupations coming up. Job postings for noncritical health care are on the rise, for one. There also are opportunities for temperature takers and contact tracers at workplaces instituting measures for employees returning to jobs where safety is taking on heightened importance.
There also is rising demand for logistics and supply, finance, pharma and telecom, said Amy Glaser, senior vice president at staffing agency Adecco. Glaser said there’s also a demand for workers with skills that can be applied to a number of different jobs.
“There are companies out there that are hiring. What’s important to note is that a lot of the workforce is going to have to consider potential new jobs with transferable skills,” she said. For example, “the fast-food industry has taken a hit, but the skills of fast-food workers translate really well into warehouses.”
That lesson is playing out across the economy.
“If you don’t pivot you die,” said Josh York, founder and CEO of GYMGUYZ, which brings personalized workouts to customers’ homes.
York said the rise of social distancing has brought up a huge demand for virtual workouts, and he’s planning to bring on hundreds of trainers to cater to a new wave of clientele.
“We’re hiring tons of people right now,” he said. “On the flip side, we’re selling franchises, too, because people are seeing what’s happening. Gyms are becoming like Blockbuster, and we’re Netflix.”
York sees many businesses changing as a result of the current crisis, but he said people need to view it as more of an opportunity than an obstacle.
“Things will go back to normal. It might be better than we were. Maybe we needed a reset,” he said. “When you live life telling yourself, why is this happening for me instead of to me, you’ll be in a lot better place.”