The current crisis has been swifter and more devastating to the labor force than the great recession. In the first month, employment decreased more than it did during the more than two years during the great recession. (Figure 1)
The recovery also appears to be swifter, at least initially. Between month three and month four of the current economic crisis, employment recovered from -13 % to negative 10%. There was no point during the Great Recession where we saw such a dramatic increase. Unfortunately, job gains were already stalling prior to the recent surge in COVID cases. (Figure 1)
Thus far, the recovery has been K shaped. Middle- and upper-class white-collar professionals who can work from home have done well. Few have lost jobs, and many are benefiting from economic stimulus policies, including record low interest rates. In Oregon, jobs for the top third of income earners (starting at roughly $80,000/year) have increased during the past year.
Since the start of the COVID-19 economic crisis, 821,300 initial unemployment claims have been filed by workers in Oregon. During the past twelve months, the number of initial UI claims was roughly equal to 38 percent of the workforce. (Figure 2)
It’s important to note that the claims do not represent all workers who lost their jobs. Not all workers are eligible for unemployment, including workers who did not meet the threshold for hours worked during the past five quarters and undocumented immigrants.
Prior to the start of crisis, weekly claims averaged between 890 and 1,269. Initial claims peaked in April and by October they were back to pre-pandemic level. It’s important to note, though, that total employment has shrunk so while the weekly claim numbers are similar to what they were in the early months of 2020, that actually represents a higher percentage of the workforce filing claims each week.
Continued unemployment claims continue to be much higher than before the pandemic. In Oregon, continued unemployment claims peaked in June at just over 309,000. By March 2021, the number of continued claims had decreased to 60,600. This is likely a combination of workers returning to employment and others running out of benefits. (Figure 3)
Jobs losses were unevenly distributed across industries. The industry hardest hit was Accommodations and Food Service. To date, that sector has had the largest number of initial claims filed, more than 122,000 in Oregon, representing 60% of the 2019 labor force. Again, it’s important to note that this does not include undocumented immigrants and other workers who are ineligible for UI benefits. The loses are undoubtedly higher than what we see in the data. (Figure 4)
Other industries that have suffered large losses include Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation, and Retail Trade. Occupations in these sectors tend to be low-wage and require lower levels of educational attainment. Younger workers and workers of color are overrepresented in these industries. Healthcare and Social Assistance also had a high number of UI claims. That sector, however, has recovered nearly all of the jobs lost during the past year.
So, what do we know about the workers who are filing for unemployment benefits? In short, not nearly as much as we could.
Basic demographic data, including age, sex, race, and ethnicity are collected when workers file initial unemployment claims. Unfortunately, much of the data is incomplete. We do not have useful data on claims by sex, race, or ethnicity. (Figure 6-8)
We can say for certain that the current economic crisis is disproportionately impacting young adult workers. Young workers, age 16 to 34 are more likely to work in industries that have suffered large loses, more likely to lose their jobs, and more likely to remain on unemployment. These systematic setbacks, including loss of work experience and wage growth, can have long-term effects on their careers. (Figure 9-10)
Workers with Disabling Conditions
We don’t have data yet on how many of these workers lost their jobs, faced reduced hours or more dangerous working conditions due to COVID-19. What we do have is a broad look at the role of disabled workers in the economy both in Oregon and the United States.
Workers with disabling conditions have long faced barriers to employment. As a cohort, they were significantly less likely to participate in the labor force. Workers with disabling conditions in the labor force were more likely to experience unemployment, work part time, and be concentrated in industries with lower median wages. (Figure 11)
Prior to the pandemic, the United States experienced a period of strong employment growth. Unemployment was historically low. This benefited workers across the labor force, including workers with disabling conditions.
Nationally, unemployment rates for workers with and without disabling conditions follow similar patterns. During 2018 and 2019, the unemployment rate for workers with disabling conditions were roughly 50% higher than for workers without. In early 2020, though, the rate for workers with disabling conditions was more than twice that of workers without such conditions. This is likely a result of the unusually strong job market for workers without disabling conditions during that period. Disabled workers also benefited from the strong job market but not to the same extent. As unemployment increased at the beginning of the COVID-19 economic crisis, the gap between the two rates narrowed. (Figure 12)
In Oregon, workers with disabling conditions were overrepresented in the following industries: service occupations, production, transportation, and material moving occupations. They were significantly underrepresented in management, business, science, and arts occupations. This is a bit of a mixed bag. Service and art occupations have been hard hit during the pandemic. Transportation and material moving on the other hand has been booming. (Figure 13)
Between March 2020 and February 2021, nearly all sectors in Oregon lost jobs. Some of those losses will be permanent.
Nationally, workers with disabling conditions are overrepresented in two of hardest hit sectors, including leisure and hospitality, retail trade. (Figure 14)
Since late summer, employment growth has stabilized in some sectors. Service occupations were the hardest hit.
The pandemic will permanently alter the way we do some things by accelerating existing economic trends. One change is how we shop. The pandemic accelerated the shift to online shopping and created a massive disruption in the supply chain and distribution system. This slide shows job postings by occupation, comparing unique posting for jobs between November 2020 and February 2021 with the same period last year. The most in demand job is heavy and tractor trailer Truck drivers. The demand for this job increased 67% during that year. The most in demand jobs also include light truck drivers, stockers and order fillers. All jobs that are seeing increased demand due to an increase in direct-to-consumer shopping. (Figure 17)