The April 2020 Unemployment Report is Bad. And Unequal.

Even in good times, unemployment rates are unequal. Remember February 2020? You know, when the phrase “uncertain times” didn’t show up in 90 percent of commercials? At that time, White people had an unemployment rate of 3.1 percent. Compare this rate to 5.8 percent for Black people and 4.4 percent for Hispanic people. The unemployment rate also showed inequality by education. Those with a high-school degree were unemployed 3.6 percent of the time, twice as often as those with a college degree. So, as strong as the economy may have appeared in February 2020, it certainly wasn’t equally good for everyone.

Of course, February 2020 seems like a long time ago. And, unemployment inequality is among the many things that have gotten worse since then. In this short post, I want to recap three takeaways I found noteworthy from the April 2020 Employment Report.

Takeaway 1: Women Workers have Been Hurt More Than Men

In general, women are less likely to be unemployed than men. Maybe it’s because their better at their jobs. After all, women leaders also seem to be doing a better job handling the Coronavirus crisis than male leaders. C’mon guys, step it up!

However, the April jobs report showed that women have been disproportionately hurt by the crisis to date. Given the industries affected by the Coronavirus shutdowns, this fact isn’t surprising. But, it’s troubling all the same. Especially given that a quarter of U.S. children live with a single mom, the highest rate in the world. So, an economic downturn that hurts women disproportionately hurts kids. Figure 1 shows the increase in unemployment faced by women. The figure shows how women went from being less frequently to more frequently unemployed.

Figure 1. Unemployment Rate by Gender, April 2019 and April 2020

Note: Shows unemployment rate for men and women aged 20 and over.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2020. Employment Situation Summary. April. Table A1.

Takeaway 2: Hispanics Have Been Hit Especially Hard

My last post highlighted why Black and Hispanic people may be especially impacted by Coronavirus — both economically and physically. One reason why was that Black and Hispanic workers were more likely to be in the types of industries being temporarily shut down. This fact was especially true for Hispanic workers, with 23 percent in food services, leisure & hospitality, or retail, compared to 18 percent of White workers.

Figure 2 shows how unemployment has evolved overall, and then for White, Black, and Hispanic workers. Clearly, all groups have been hurt. But, Hispanic workers have been hurt more, with unemployment rising by an unprecedented 15 percentage points. Figure 2 also shows that the inequalities that existed before the crisis have largely remained in place.

Figure 2. Unemployment Rate by Race/Ethnicity, April 2019 and April 2020

Note: Shows unemployment rate for men and women combined.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2020. Employment Situation Summary. April. Tables A2 and A3.

Takeaway 3: The Lowest Income Industry has Been Hurt the Most

Crises often hurt those who were in the worst shape to start with. The crisis brought on by the Coronavirus certainly seems to stick to that rule. Figure 3 merges information from the April 2020 unemployment report with earnings data from April 2019. This graph is a bit complicated. The grey bars are annual wages (on the left axis). The red line is unemployment (on the right axis). The highest paying industries are on the left of the graph and the lowest paying on the right.

Even though the figure is a bit complicated, the implication is clear. Leisure and hospitality is the lowest paying industry. And, it’s unemployment rate sits at 39.3 percent. 39.3 percent!! That’s higher than Snoop Dogg on April 20th.

Figure 3. Annual Earnings and Unemployment Rate by Industry, April 2019 and April 2020 Respectively

Note: Shows unemployment rate for men and women aged 20 and over.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2020. Employment Situation Summary. April. Tables A14 and B3.

Conclusion

The April 2020 Employment Situation put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is many things. It’s bad, depressing, unprecedented, and unequal. As we go forward in this crisis, it is important to remember that inequality.

And, it’s also important to remember the definition of “unemployment.” People are only unemployed if they are able to work, looking for work, and willing to work. The people sent to unemployment by this crisis are not lazy and they didn’t lack foresight. They want to work, and none of us could have seen this coming. OK…Bill Gates saw this coming. But he’s wicked smart. In any case, as a society, we should ensure those put to unemployment by this crisis have what they need.

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