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The Job Market's Long Road Back -2-

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05/22/2020 | 10:14pm EDT

Jordan Shain, 38, expected to be out for a month or two when he was furloughed from his job inspecting titanium parts used in jet engines at Whitcraft Group in Scarborough, Maine. Then on April 29 he learned that he and about 130 machinists, engineers and others would lose their jobs permanently.

"This is just a shock," said Mr. Shain. He worked at the plant for eight years and felt secure at a business he thought was doing well.

Whitcraft's Chief Executive Doug Folsom said the plant in Scarborough was one of the company's best performing. In March, as the pandemic spread, the company estimated a drop of between 30% and 50% for engine components from the plant and put employees on rotating furloughs. A few weeks later, he learned a customer wouldn't buy any components through the rest of the year from the Scarborough plant and that demand would be low in 2021.

He said the company, which makes other precision components for the aerospace and power generation industries, might have shifted another product to Scarborough if it had had more time. But the business was burning through cash too quickly and shutting the operation was the right move for remaining employees and shareholders, he said. The South Windsor, Conn., company will close another plant in Arizona, eliminating 40 more jobs. It laid off 20% of its remaining workforce, or about 230 people, at its nine other locations.

"I feel horrible for the very talented employees that are affected by this," Mr. Folsom said. "I get the feeling we're on the front end of this thing."

Mr. Shain, who earned $23.81 an hour, said he is now looking for work, including at delivery companies, while trying to get health insurance for himself, his wife and two children and keep up with car payments, a student loan and other expenses.

Vaughan Hospitality Group, which operates seven Irish pubs in Chicago, was preparing to open its seasonal Riverwalk location in time for St. Patrick's Day. Instead it had to close all its bars and lay off 160 workers.

"I thought we'd be closed for two weeks," said owner Kristan Vaughan. Now she doesn't plan to reopen until July, but said, "I can't bring everyone back." At least one of the pubs will stay closed because it's too small to operate profitably at the 25% capacity level state officials have proposed.

Before the pandemic, Austin Sweet, 28, patched together 60 or 70 hours of work every week as an audio engineer, juggling part-time and freelance gigs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But in late winter, the work began drying up as concerts and conventions were canceled.

One of Mr. Sweet's employers, a small firm that supplied audio equipment and engineers for corporate events, laid off staff in early March. Two weeks later, he was told the layoff would be permanent.

"My industry doesn't exist right now," he said.

--Lauren Weber and Kris Maher contributed to this article.

Write to Eric Morath at eric.morath@wsj.com

 

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