They Were on Equal Footing. Then the Ground Shifted.

“You just got to scrape along and gut it out,” he said. “We’re really struggling to get by.”

But in Ms. Arnone’s other field, home appraising, her friends and colleagues are reaping rewards from the booming housing market, where January sales were up 23.7 percent from a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors. Ultralow mortgage rates have prompted a wave of refinancings, which require fresh appraisals.

“I don’t have much to complain about,” said Traci Warner, a friend of Ms. Arnone’s and a home appraiser in Waldorf, Md., south of Washington. After her husband was laid off from his sales job in April, Ms. Warner’s work picked up the slack.

It’s not that things are perfect, but unlike Mr. Gallagher, she does not feel that she is barely hanging on.

This contrast is mirrored in the larger economy. Weekly unemployment claims by newly laid-off workers remain at historically elevated levels even as stock indexes reach record highs.

Vaccines have arrived, but their slow rollout means it will be months before anything resembling normal activity can resume at restaurants, hotels, gyms, airports, malls and other businesses that depend on bringing people together.

“It’s very uneven,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, a forecasting and research group. “The recovery for the most vulnerable parts of the population will take years.” Not only are wages and salaries down for the hardest-hit segments of the work force, he noted, but so are overall employment and participation in the labor force.

At the very top, the gains have been staggering. In eight months after the pandemic hit the United States, the wealth of the country’s roughly 650 billionaires grew by $1 trillion, according to a November study by the Institute for Policy Studies and other progressive groups. That included a $70 billion lift for just one of those magnates: the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos.

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