Dislocated Workers: What They Are And Examples

By Chris Kolmar - Dec. 1, 2020

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With the ongoing effects of the COVID pandemic, many companies across all industries are struggling to survive. Because of this, unfortunately, many people are without jobs now. As companies continue to need to tighten their belts, employees are becoming victims of budget cuts and layoffs.

Between February and May of this year, nearly eight million Americans became unemployed. This spike was even more prominent than in the Great Recession in 2007 and 2008. Job losses related to COVID and its effects caused the unemployment rate to reach 13%. Recently, the Pew Research Center reported that of the adults who lost their jobs due to COVID in the spring, only half of them have been able to find employment now in the fall.

Now more than ever, it’s essential to know about the state of the economy for any job seeker. Because of these unprecedented conditions, many people have become displaced workers. It can be a tricky position to find yourself in and try to navigate, but luckily there are plenty of resources for dislocated workers now.

Dislocated, or displaced, workers are a unique type of unemployment and are even entitled to certain government benefits while they search for jobs. We’re going to go over what makes someone a dislocated worker and what to do if you end up in this situation.

What Is a Dislocated Worker?

Dislocated workers are people who have lost their jobs due to layoffs at a company. They are not people who have been fired for performance issues or any other reason.

With widespread layoffs and unemployment in America right now, many people can qualify as dislocated workers. The exact definition varies by state, but at the most basic level, a dislocated worker is someone who was laid off and is actively engaging in or plans to start a job search.

You’ll want to check your state’s Department of Labor guidelines around definitions for displaced workers, but here are the qualifications for dislocated workers in Connecticut. Though the details vary from state to state, this is a good guide for understanding what it means to be considered a dislocated worker.

  • You’ve been fired or laid off

  • Your employer has announced layoffs for the company, or you’ve been notified that you’ll be laid off in the immediate future. This is the category for anyone who lost their job as a result of mass layoffs or plant closures.

  • You’re self-employed but out of work or “unemployed as a result of general economic conditions in the community or because of a natural disaster”

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  • You’re not employed, but you’re dependent on another family member’s income who has been laid-off. This is also known as a displaced homemaker.

  • You’re the spouse of someone in the army who has lost their job or is underemployed.

Other states can include different definitions of dislocated workers, like New York, which includes a case for those who have lost their jobs due to foreign trade conditions or “off-shoring.” Some states have a narrow definition of dislocated workers and mention that they don’t have plans to return to their previous job or industry for new work.

The main thing that ties all of these definitions together is that displaced workers were not fired for work performance or anything personal. Displaced workers result from an economic downturn or company closings, not the work of an individual. In the era of COVID, the economic downturn is impacting many people and making it a huge reason for unemployment or dislocated worker status.

If you lost your job because of a branch office closing, outsourcing of jobs to another country, or a plant closing, you’re most likely qualified to be labeled as a displaced worker. Other things like company mergers or acquisitions can cause layoffs as well. Think about the state of your company and any recent news. You’ll most likely know why you’re being laid off when the time comes, but it doesn’t help to be aware of what’s going on either.

How Being a Dislocated Worker Works

Many times, when people become displaced workers, they simply return to the job search and look for new employment opportunities. Depending on your skillset and work experience, you may be able to find a job quickly without any assistance, or you might have to spend a few months searching. With an economy and labor-market this unpredictable, it can be hard to figure out how long you’ll be unemployed and what opportunities are out there.

Once you know that you’ll be losing your job, getting ahead on the job search is vital. Job openings might not be as plentiful as they were, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there. Career centers and job boards continue to help job seekers get a job, and plenty of industries, like medical professions, are hiring now.

If you’re not having any luck finding a job, there are options to file for unemployment and get assistance, especially now during COVID. Just like the qualifications to be called a displaced worker differ depending on your state, the benefits you can claim as an unemployed worker vary from state to state.

What doesn’t change is that the Dislocated Worker Programs in each state are federally funded by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). To learn more about your state’s programs, you can look at the federal Department of Labor’s online directory.

While the definitions and benefits for displaced workers vary by state, some programs are the same. Many displaced worker benefits include training like skills training for jobs available in the area, literacy and reading comprehension, and English as a second language (ESL) classes. Other services can be more like counseling and coaching, with opportunities to help you search for a job, start a business, become self-employed, or help your family deal with unemployment.

Displaced workers can also be eligible for government assistance in most cases. Dislocated workers can qualify for unemployment assistance, and with the expansion of assistance due to COVID, you’ll most likely qualify.

Unemployment assistance can cover things like health insurance and give you a small income for a short time. Many states offer displaced workers basic unemployment assistance. Washington state allows dislocated workers to claim unemployment and be “eligible for up to 26 weeks of ‘regular’ unemployment-insurance benefits and any extended-benefits programs that may be available during high unemployment. These benefits can be combined with an additional 26 weeks for income support for dislocated workers who are enrolled in an approved training plan.”

Many states follow these guidelines, but be sure to check what you’re eligible for in your state.

Tips for Displaced Workers

Luckily, there are more options for displaced workers now than ever. Here are a few tips to get you back on your feet if you become a dislocated worker like many Americans currently are.

  • Keep searching. Don’t stop your job search if you become a displaced worker. Keep your eyes peeled for new opportunities, especially in new industries or places you never thought you’d work. The most important thing is not to give up and keep applying anywhere you can.

  • Know your benefits. Look into what you can get from your company or your state government if you become a displaced worker. Keep an eye out for opportunities to build new skills and get training for available jobs if the resources are accessible.

  • Be flexible. Think about your skills and where you could apply them. There might be opportunities out there that you never thought of before, like freelance work or other in-between jobs you can take to get some income.

  • Look for training opportunities. There are tons of free and paid resources online to further your learning and bolster your skills in every industry. Take advantage of these skill-building opportunities and look for ways to make your resume stand out.

  • Update your resume. If you’ve been employed for awhile, the odds are that your resume is out of date. Take this time to update and perfect it so you can put your best foot forward when you apply to jobs. Bonus tip: create multiple versions of your resume tailored to specific jobs and highlight your particular skills and experience to really show off to recruiters.

  • Use your network. With online networking sites and easy online communication, connecting with your network and the professional networks of your friends and coworkers has never been easier. Tap into your connections and see if there are any opportunities for you to work for or learn from your network.

  • Practice for interviews. It can’t hurt to brush up on your interview skills and practice a few interviews. As you apply for jobs, you’re bound to get a few interview offers along the way, so it’s best to be prepared when they come.

  • Set up job alerts. Lots of companies and job boards allow you to get email alerts when new jobs open up, so look for places to sign up. Since you’ll be the first to know about new jobs, they can be a great way to get your application in early and get noticed.

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Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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