The pandemic changed everything about our lives, especially how we work. An estimated 114 million people lost their jobs in 2020, while millions more workers had their hours and income cut. Many of those who were lucky enough to keep their jobs had to transition to working from home, often while also juggling family care and remote learning.
But what started off as a crisis is now turning into an opportunity for a large number of employees. Dubbed “the great resignation,” this latest trend in the workforce has presented a host of new challenges for employers — and new possibilities for workers.
“The great resignation describes the phenomena of professionals leaving their employment positions, or refusing available work, in accordance with their own priorities,” explained Pablo Listingart, a career development expert and founder of ComIT. Those priorities range from shouldering dependent care to a general change of heart regarding their role in corporate America. In fact, nearly 4 million workers resigned from their jobs in July alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (that’s just slightly below the April record). At the same time, job openings reached a new high of 10.9 million positions. “It’s a movement that’s defined the recovery era, and it’s hard for workers and employers alike,” Listingart said.
So as Americans continue to shuffle their careers and priorities, here’s a closer look at how people are making money now.
As remote work became the norm during the pandemic, many employees realized they didn’t have to be tied down to an office to earn an income. “Employees who resigned from their full-time jobs have delved into freelancing, since it offers more flexibility in terms of schedules and workload,” said Joe Wilson, senior employment advisor at MintResume. That’s particularly valuable for parents without affordable child care or family leave options, which has been a major hurdle employers face when it comes to filling in-person positions.
According to a recent survey by Upwork, 20% of respondents are considering freelancing. Of those who are, 73% said the ability to work remotely or flexibly is their top reason. On a national scale, that would represent 10 million Americans, and a 17% jump in the total freelance workforce when compared to the 57 million people that freelanced during 2019.
The past year and a half was particularly rough on small-business owners. A 2020 survey by CBIZ, Inc. found that 84% of businesses experienced some level of negative impact from the pandemic and corresponding economic slowdown. Small- and mid-sized businesses were disproportionately affected, with over 43% reporting a significant to severe impact. The survey also found that smaller businesses (those with one to four employees) were hit the hardest.
Even so, 2021 has proven to be a good time to start a business for those who were able to weather the worst parts of the pandemic, especially as the economy continues to recover. In fact, the 16-month period from March 2020 to June 2021 was a record high for business startups, with over 440,000 businesses established in June alone.
The pandemic afforded budding entrepreneurs the time to spend on formulating business plans and the financial resources (such as stimulus checks) to get their ideas off the ground. “They realized that they can use their skills in building their own businesses and be their own bosses,” Wilson said.
For better or worse, a trendy new side hustle emerged from the pandemic: amateur day trading. “Some employees who resigned have invested their last pay in trading or cryptocurrencies,” Wilson said. Why? That’s thanks in part to record market growth: The S&P 500 ended up more than 16% higher at the end of 2020, even after experiencing one of the worst market crashes in March.
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The growing popularity of cryptocurrencies and “meme stocks” such as GameStop, AMC and Blackberry also fueled the trend, especially with endorsements from celebrities like Elon Musk.
An estimated 10 million new investors joined the brokerage industry, according to JMP Securities.
And while most people who just got started investing probably haven’t made enough to live off of, a lucky few did hit it big.
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Last updated: Sept. 29, 2021