Tracking the COVID-19 Economic Devastation

By Anthony P. Carnevale and Emma Wenzinger

Across the country, millions of workers are unemployed amid a recession promoted by the coronavirus pandemic. As nonessential businesses shuttered and workplaces moved online to stem the spread of the virus, unemployment had the sharpest monthly increase on record, shooting up from 3.6 percent in January 2020 to 14.7 percent in April.

The economic devastation resulting from the pandemic is far from over, and the recession is just beginning to be understood. As the economic crisis continues, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce is tracking job losses and unemployment each month by education, sex, race, age, industry, and occupation. This blog post focuses on several highlights, but we encourage readers to visit the website for more data.

Tracking COVID-19 Unemployment and Job Losses

Cumulative Job Losses for 2020 Reach 23 Million

Cumulative job losses offer the best picture of which workers have sustained disproportionate shares of job losses and which industries and occupations have been most affected. Our website includes parallel data on unemployment rates. While unemployment has reached historic heights, and even depression levels in some states, unemployment rates can miss the full extent of the current recession because they do not account for people who leave the labor market.

The pandemic recession eliminated job gains in the early part of 2020; following peak job losses measured in April, the cumulative job loss since January totals 23 million. Close to half of these jobs (46%) were held by workers with no more than a high school diploma, while an additional 5.4 million of these jobs (24%) were held by workers with some college but no degree (Table 1). Workers with associate’s degrees and higher accounted for 30 percent (roughly 6.9 million) of lost jobs. Workers with lower levels of formal education are less likely to be able to perform their jobs from home, which minimizes their chances of remaining employed throughout the pandemic.

Table 1. Workers with no more than a high school diploma experienced the most job losses from January to May.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of data from the US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, various months.

More Women Are Unemployed Than Men

Unlike in the Great Recession, women are bearing the brunt of job losses in this recession, with 55 percent of lost jobs affecting women. Overall, women’s share of all job losses is 10 percentage points higher than men’s. With the exception of job losses among workers with a high school diploma or less, where the gap in the share of losses borne by women and men was only 6 percentage points, the share of job loss borne by women is 14 percentage points higher than the share borne by men (Table 2). This economic setback follows the slightly lower unemployment rate for women than for men in the three months before the recession began. In fact, in January women had begun slightly outnumbering men in the labor force as jobs were added in education and health services, fields in which women are highly concentrated.

Table 2. Women accounted for a higher share of job losses than men at all levels of education.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of data from the US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, various months.

Women may be experiencing disproportionate job losses as a result of occupational segregation. Job losses concentrated in community and social services occupations (representing 10% of total jobs lost), food preparation and serving occupations (16%), office and administrative support occupations (8%), and personal care and services occupations (9%) hurt female employment (Table 3). On the other hand, large losses in sales and related occupations likely affected men and women differently, with men more likely to be in higher-paying sales positions in specific sales jobs in pharmaceuticals and insurance and women more likely to be in counter-based sales. Job losses concentrated in traditional male occupations such as transportation and material moving (representing 10% of total jobs lost), production occupations (8%), and construction and extraction (6%) likely hit male jobs disproportionately.

Table 3. Food preparation and serving-related occupations, as well as sales and related occupations, accounted for the highest shares of job losses.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of data from the US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, various months.

Black and Latino Workers Are Losing Jobs Disproportionately

Job losses show clear bias by race. As of May, White workers accounted for 51 percent of the total cumulative job losses despite being 64 percent of the workforce (Table 4). Black and Latino workers, on the other hand, accounted for higher shares of job losses than their shares of employment. Latinos, who comprise 17 percent of the workforce, suffered 24 percent of the job losses, while Blacks, who comprise 11 percent of the workforce, suffered 15 percent of the job losses.

Job losses for different racial and ethnic groups were concentrated at different levels of educational attainment. Latinos accounted for 33 percent of the job losses among workers with a high school diploma or less (Table 4), the educational attainment group that suffered nearly half of all job losses (Table 5). Blacks shouldered heavy job losses at all levels of education. Whites represented 60 percent of job losses among workers with bachelor’s degrees or higher (Table 4), but workers with bachelor’s degrees accounted for only 19 percent of all jobs lost (Table 5).

Table 4. Job losses by race and ethnicity varied across education levels.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of data from the US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, various months and Household Pulse Survey, 2020.

Notes: Other includes any race not otherwise specified and combinations of multiple races. Percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

Job losses among workers with a high school diploma or less particularly hurt Latino employment. While 46 percent of job losses were borne by workers with a high school diploma, 64 percent of job losses among Latino workers were borne by those with no more than a high school diploma, compared to 42 percent among Black workers and 38 percent among White workers (Table 5). Among White workers, the share of job losses borne by those with some college but no degree (27%) was relatively high compared to the share of job losses borne by workers with some college, no degree overall (24%). The shares of job losses borne by workers at the associate’s degree and bachelor’s degree or higher levels were the same for Black and White workers, at 12 percent for workers with associate’s degrees and 23 percent for workers with bachelor’s degrees or higher. Both Black and White workers at these levels bore higher shares of job losses within their racial/ethnic groups than was the case for workers at the associate’s degree and bachelor’s degree or higher levels overall (11% and 19%, respectively).

Table 5. Job losses for Latino workers were concentrated among those with a high school diploma or less.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of data from the US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, various months.

Note: Other includes any race not otherwise specified and combinations of multiple races.

Job Losses Have Been Concentrated in Face-to-Face Industries

The pandemic recession has hit some industries much harder than others. The top four sectors accounting for the highest overall share of job losses are leisure and hospitality (representing 25% of all jobs lost), wholesale and retail (14%), health services (10%), and other services (9%) (Table 6). Border closures and travel restrictions, social distancing protocols, and individual safety concerns took a tremendous toll on the leisure and hospitality industry and its workers. At the same time, store closings hurt brick-and-mortar businesses, contributing to high numbers of job losses in the wholesale and retail industry.

Table 6. Across industries, the leisure and hospitality industry had the largest number of job losses.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of data from the US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, various months.

Job Losses Vary by Occupation and Education Level

It’s important to look at job losses by occupation. The recession has hit workers differently across different education levels, and education is more directly tied to what a person does than to where a person works. As shown in Table 3, food preparation and service occupations led to job losses, accounting for 16 percent of losses overall. These occupations were followed by sales occupations (15%), community and social services occupations (10%), transportation and material moving (10%), personal care (9%), production occupations (8%), and office and administrative support occupations (8%). Taken together, these seven occupational groups accounted for 76 percent of the cumulative job loss as of May.

For workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher, job losses in community and social services occupations (representing 20% of all job losses for workers at this attainment level) and sales occupations (20%) accounted for a large share of jobs lost. Computer occupations actually added jobs for workers with at least a bachelor’s degree (Table 7). By contrast, job losses for workers with the lowest levels of formal education were more dispersed across occupational groups. Losses for workers with no more than a high school diploma were the highest in food preparation and serving occupations (19%), transportation (14%), and production occupations (12%).

Table 7. For workers with bachelor’s degrees or higher, job losses varied greatly by occupational group, while job losses for workers with less education were relatively consistent across occupations.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce analysis of data from the US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, various months.

Note: Columns may not sum to 100 percent due to rounding.

* Workers with some college, no degree gained 96,331 net jobs in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance, and 48,041 net jobs in farms, fishing,and forestry, countering 2 percent and 1 percent of job losses among workers with some college, no degree, respectively.

Workers with associate’s degrees gained 45,401 net jobs in protective services, countering 2 percent of job losses among workers with an associate’s degree.

Workers with bachelor’s degrees or higher gained 377,721 net jobs in computer and mathematical occupations, countering 9 percent of job losses among workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Dr. Carnevale is the director and research professor and Emma Wenzinger is the strategic communications specialist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. CEW is an independent, nonprofit research and policy institute affiliated with the Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy that studies the link between education, career qualifications, and workforce demands.

Follow the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce on Twitter (@GeorgetownCEW), LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook.

Georgetown CEW

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce is a…

Georgetown CEW

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce is a nonprofit, independent research institute that studies the link between education and the workforce.

Anthony P. Carnevale

Written by

Director and Research Professor at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, an independent, nonprofit research and policy institute.

Georgetown CEW

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce is a nonprofit, independent research institute that studies the link between education and the workforce.

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