At a time when millions of Americans are losing jobs at restaurants, hotels and airlines because of the coronavirus pandemic, a few large companies are on a hiring spree.
That's because despite mass shutdowns and lockdowns, Americans still need food and medicine. And that means a new hiring push at supermarkets such as Kroger and Albertsons, pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, convenience and discount stores like Dollar General and 7-Eleven, and retail giants like Amazon and Walmart.
This week, hotel chains Marriott and Hilton launched new programs to get their furloughed workers some of the new temporary jobs in food, health care and retail.
Grocery delivery service Instacart on Monday said it plans to sign on 300,000 new gig workers to shop and deliver groceries, more than doubling its workforce of independent contractors.
Walmart plans to add 150,000 new staffers to warehouses and stores, promising to get some people into new jobs in a matter of hours.
Amazon has a similar plan, to hire 100,000 new delivery and warehouse workers in the next few weeks to keep up with a big spike in online shopping.
Papa John's and other pizza-delivery companies are hiring thousands of cooks, managers and drivers. Same at meal kit companies like Blue Apron and delivery platforms like Shipt.
Transportation and logistics hiring is up 7% in mid-March compared to mid-February, says Daniel Zhao, senior economist at the jobs and recruiting website Glassdoor. That accounts for new hires at warehouses of all kinds, including retail.
Zhao says new types of jobs are being posted by local governments and health care organizations. Those positions include call-center and front-desk workers who are helping to field questions about the coronavirus and local response.
Some of the companies that are adding new jobs — including Amazon and Instacart — have faced criticism from their current employees, who want protective gear, hazard pay and broader access to paid sick leave.
Many of the retailers and gig companies have expanded their paid leave for workers who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed on mandatory quarantines. However, access to testing in the U.S. remains tricky. And workers say they can't afford to take unpaid time off, which is what's available for those who feel vulnerable or might have to care for family members.
A new federal law will give more workers access to two weeks of paid sick leave. However, the law focuses on smaller businesses with fewer than 500 employees.
Still, these new jobs are an option for many workers who find themselves suddenly unemployed because of the coronavirus. And the companies that are hiring are specifically targeting them.
"You can imagine that there's an awful lot of people who have lost their normal livelihoods and are desperate to generate some income to support their families," says Ruth Milkman, professor of sociology and labor studies at the City University of New York.
"The whole point of paid sick leave is to not force workers to have to choose between their livelihoods and their health or the health of their kids — but these workers are going to be put in that position," Milkman says.
Many of the jobs that are growing during the pandemic are hourly, with limited benefits and pay. And they require human interaction at a time when the country is asked to socially distance. So they serve as a reminder that in times of crisis, some of the lowest-paid jobs become essential.