As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on Pittsburgh and the world, workers at Jewish Family and Community Services can be counted along with hospital nurses and grocery store clerks as potential lifesavers.
The 22 staffers at the JFCS Career Development Center have been very busy — though working entirely remotely — since mid-March, fielding inquiries from some of the 1 million-plus Pennsylvanians who have filed for unemployment benefits since COVID-19 hit the Keystone State.
“We’re helping lots of people with unemployment compensation,” said Sarah Welch, director of the career center. “I think a lot of people have been furloughed and are likely expecting those jobs to come back. There are still a lot of companies hiring — and not just for warehousing or in industries applicable to the pandemic.”
“I just hope people are not paralyzed by this,” she added, “and do take it as a call to action.”
Across the U.S., more than one in every 10 workers were fired or furloughed from their jobs in the past four weeks, according to federal figures. More than 8 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits nationwide and some are calling Pennsylvania the epicenter of the job losses. Welch questions that dubious distinction, stressing that Pennsylvania’s ability to process claims more efficiently just might give the impression of heightened job contraction.
But Welch is quick to stress the situation is dire. The Squirrel Hill-based career center typically gets about a 60% open rate on the resource emails it sends to those seeking work. In recent weeks, Welch said that open rate has spiked to 200%, meaning people are not only checking out the resources, but checking them more than once.
Robin Farabee-Siers, a JFCS career counselor for the past six years, said she hasn’t seen a dramatic increase in people seeking work. But some of those seeking it are in increasingly difficult situations. “I’ve had clients placed in ‘bridge jobs’ who are still job searching,” Farabee-Siers said. “Many of them now have lost their ‘bridge job,’ their temporary job, that thing meant to get them from point A to B.”
She said there is reason for hope.
“Companies are still hiring,” she said last week. “I’ve had clients who’ve interviewed with BNY Mellon, with PPG. A client I spoke to today had an interview with the University of Pittsburgh. And there are lot of offers coming through, though (they’re saying), ‘We want you. We just don’t have a starting date yet for you.’”
Both Welch and Farabee-Siers stressed the current shutdown at many workplaces could be an opportunity for many.
“If you haven’t updated your resume in X years, now’s a good time to do it,” Farabee-Siers said. “It’s a really good time to talk to people, to do networking and reconnecting … Keep cultivating your network even if you’re not certain about what your next steps are.”
JFCS also partnered with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and United Way 2-1-1 to launch a Community COVID-19 Hotline. The service, available at 412-422-0400, helps connect workers, job seekers and those impacted in some way by the pandemic with critical resources and support. Calls will be returned within 24 hours.
The group, which serves both Jews and non-Jews, also is offering virtual events such as “Open Space Support Groups” and “Mindfulness & Meditation for Stress Management.” For more information, visit jfcspgh.org. PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.