Resources for Economic Empowerment Programs: Responding to COVID-19

The Promoting Employment Opportunities for Survivors of Human Trafficking (PEOST) Project is closely monitoring the impact COVID-19 is having on the economy and employment opportunities available to survivors of human trafficking. This page will be continually updated with new information and resources to support the safety and economic security of survivors as they become available. For specific questions or needs, please reach out to

[Updated 04.24.2020]
Industry Impact | Relief Resources | Job Opportunities | Working Safely | Building Skills Online


Workers in the hospitality and retail sectors face the highest risk of job loss during this pandemic as states and local governments try to slow the spread of the virus by closing non-essential businesses and mandating people stay at home. Because jobs in these sectors are often low-wage and without benefits, workers in these industries – the majority of whom are women, people of color, and immigrants – are particularly vulnerable to such economic shocks.

a graph of jobs most affected by COVID-19 pandemic: food and beverage, clothing and retail.


The scale of these job losses vary greatly by region and are not necessarily related to the severity of COVID-19 within a state. A state’s reliance on retail, leisure, and hospitality makes them more vulnerable to job loss than the impact of the number of COVID-19 cases in that state. Projections from the Economic Policy Institute suggest that states like Nevada, Hawaii, Alaska, Mississippi, and Delaware will be among the states with the highest share of unemployment claims due to the composition of industries within their states.

A vulnerability index, created by economists at Chmura, can provide a better sense of what to expect at a local level:


More than 22 million workers have applied for unemployment benefits since mid-March; these numbers are expected to rise with the Federal Reserve Bank estimating that the unemployment rate will reach 32.1 percent at the peak of this health crisis. In response, a number of new resources have been made available to help support workers who have experienced job loss or a reduction of income as a result of COVID-19.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)
Worker Relief Funds
Relief for Small Businesses


In response to changing consumer needs as a result of social distancing and stay-at-home mandates, some industries and businesses are hiring. Most of these positions can be found within the gig economy such as Instacart, pharmacy retail including CVS and Walgreens, and grocery store chains.

Individuals looking for work should consider the potential health and safety risks of being in the public and potentially exposed to the virus versus the benefit of these job opportunities. These positions are generally low-wage, often lack benefits, and there are increasing reports of a lack of personal protective equipment being provided to workers or other safety and health measures being taken by some businesses during the pandemic. In addition, many of the employers who are hiring are businesses with over 500 employees, as such, workers employed by these businesses are not eligible for the leave benefits under the FFCRA.


Graph of what companies are currently hiring: Instacart, Walmart, Amazon, CVS, Albertsons, Lowes, Pizza Hut, and 7-Eleven


To find local job openings, visit American Job Centers online at to search by location and keyword.

For more information on connecting survivors to workforce development and employment opportunities, visit Opportunities for Survivors of Human Trafficking Through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA): A Primer.


COVID-19 has exposed workers to new risks to their health and safety. In addition to health workers, there are many other occupations that have a heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to job duties that put them in close contact with the public or public areas, like janitors, transit workers, and grocery store cashiers. There are increasing reports that some workers are not being provided with gloves, masks, cleaning supplies, antibacterial gel or wipes, and other personal protective measures while working.

To help support these workers, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health has compiled guidance on workers’ safety and health rights here: (English) and (Español).

Workers who are fortunate enough to be able to work from home may face increased threats of violence from abusive partners. Learn more about how to support these individuals from the National Resource Center for Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence at (English) and (Español).



While job training programs and workforce development programs have mostly shut down, economic empowerment programs can continue to help survivors build their skills and prepare for employment once the crisis has passed and businesses are able to safely reopen. Consider an individual’s identified career pathway and collaborate with that individual to identify the skills they have and what skills can develop or strengthen to better position them enter or advance in those chosen careers. Try to identify skill building opportunities that offer industry recognized credentials. Connect with your local community college or American Job Center to learn about available online training programs. Other free online trainings are available through: 

If a survivor is uncertain of their desired career path, now is a good time to explore potential careers that match their interests, skills, and income needs. The U.S. Department of Labor has developed a comprehensive to help job seekers explore careers. O*Net Online, https://onetonline.orgis a robust resource for workforce development professionals and job seekers that helps to explore and analyze career opportunities based on a range of criteria including interest, skills, job type, growing opportunities, and much more. Learn more about how to use this power tool at the O*Net Academy:

This may also be a good time for individuals who are interested in entrepreneurship to learn more about developing business plans to pursue their dreams. There are a number of online resources, including the educational resources listed above, that can help potential entrepreneurs explore their business concepts, learn about basic operations, and develop their business models.

  • SamaSchool helps prepare individuals to pursue and succeed in independent/freelance work.
  • Developed by the New York Small Business Development Center, EntreSkills helps potential entrepreneurs develop their business concepts.
  • The Small Business Training Network, created by the U.S. Small Business Administration, offers online training to help developing and existing small business owners.