WKYT Investigates | The post-pandemic economy

21 January 2021 - Garrett Wymer (WKYT)

She’s educated, qualified and available - yet Lori Rivera still can’t find a job.

“It all kind of boils down to, if I didn’t have my boyfriend and my family, I’d be destitute,” Rivera said. “I’d be out in a tent somewhere. So I really don’t know what the disconnect is in being able to find a job.”

Rivera is a naturopathic doctor with additional experience in patient care, office management and even phlebotomy. She lost her job in February just before the country shut down. Now she spends hours each day in her home office searching - hoping - for work, even if it is not related to her field.

“It’s pretty humiliating to be a grown woman that can’t seem to find a way to take care of herself,” she told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer. “I’ve always been pretty independent and self-sufficient. So it kind of makes me feel a little less-than.”

But she is far from the only one.

Millions of Americans have been out of work at some point in the past year because of the pandemic and ensuing economic shutdowns. Even as many jobs have come back, the latest statewide numbers show more than 100,000 workers remain unemployed in Kentucky.

“We do anticipate that job growth is going to continue, that we are going to continue recovering,” said Dr. Michael Clark, a University of Kentucky economics professor and director of the Center for Business and Economic Research, “but it will take maybe a year or two before maybe we get back to where we were, pre-pandemic.”

Kentucky’s Future Skills Report - published in November based on pre-pandemic data - projects that the commonwealth’s fastest-growing occupational fields include:

  • Personal care and home health aides
  • Transportation workers
  • Occupational therapy assistants
  • Statisticians
  • Software developers and applications

Original estimates showed the highest expected job demand through 2024 in fields like:

  • Food preparation and service-related occupations
  • Office and administrative support
  • Sales
  • Transportation

But now, as to whether some of those areas - some of which were hit hard by pandemic shutdowns or other economic losses - ever reach that demand post-pandemic likely depends on consumer spending and the results of change habits and business practices, economists say.

“The economy is a pretty complex system, and there’s a lot of different factors that play into it,” Dr. Clark said. “It’s hard to say what the employment growth is going to be in various sectors, of course. But as we kind of look forward in terms of jobs that are likely to be in demand, I think we can look at how things have changed the past year.”

After ‘Zooming’ through the past 11 months - gathering virtually, working from home, long-distance learning - economists say that I.T. support and other technology job fields are a safe bet to grow in demand.

But a lot of how the economy recovers hinges on the vaccine, experts say.

Rivera says she caught COVID in November, and even while isolating refused to turn down a job interview.

“It was a Zoom interview, but still, I thought, I couldn’t pass it up, I’ve got to pull myself together and do the interview,” she said.

Now - even with her struggles - she is staying optimistic as her job search continues into its 12th month.

“I put out a good New Year’s resolution, good energy, that I was going to find the last and best job of my life this year. I’m going with that,” she said, with a laugh. “That’s all I have is my optimism, and the support of my family.”

Like many other Kentuckians WKYT has heard from in the past 11 months, Rivera, too, is having trouble getting the unemployment benefits she is owed. Claimants can schedule phone appointments with the unemployment office here.