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Originally published in Work and the Coronavirus.

How COVID-19’s Job Disruptions Vary by Gender, Race and Hispanic Ethnicity in August 2020

A group of seven people stand in front of floor to ceiling windows with blue skies beyond.

Erica Groshen

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the work of U.S. workers unequally. This post looks at how those job disruptions have affected key groups, based on the August 2020 jobs report (that is, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Situation, see the news release).

Male and white workers continue to fare better than female, African American, Asian and Hispanic workers. By faring better, I mean both that fewer jobs have been disrupted and/or that more workers whose jobs have been disrupted retain a tie to an employer. Compared to a permanent layoff, a disruption that does not cut the tie between worker and employer has the potential to be reversed much more easily.

Background. In April, I published a post about the monthly jobs reports and some indicators that measure job disruptions from COVID-19. By “job disruptions,” I mean any of the six ways that a worker’s labor market status might be affected by the pandemic—see the next section. I apply that approach to analyze the jobs reports for April, May, June, and August[ELG1] . It may be helpful to read those posts as background. I presented results by sex, race and ethnicity as of May in this post.

Six distinct ways the crisis has disrupted (suspended or curtailed) U.S. jobs. Since disruptions can take many forms, I track these indicators in the attached COVID-19 job disruption table:

  • Employed workers not at work—workers on leave from their employer, whether paid or not (for illness, family reasons, vacation, etc.). The bureau believes that many of these workers are actually on temporary layoff. See my misclassification post for more on this topic. By including them here, we construct a measure that is unaffected by the degree of misclassification.
  • Workers part-time for economic reasons—workers who prefer to work full-time, but only found a part-time job or who usually work full-time, and who also had their hours reduced by their employers.
  • Unemployed workers on temporary layoff (furloughed)—laid-off workers who expect a recall.
  • Unemployed workers not on temporary layoff—includes workers permanently laid off, new workers, re-entrants and job leavers.
  • People out of the labor force who currently want a job—people without a job who are not looking for work, but say they want a job.
  • People out of the labor force who do not want a job—mostly students, retirees and people with disabilities or caring for family members.

For each category, I estimate the net number disrupted simply by the change in the number of workers since February. To get the overall share of workers’ jobs disrupted, I divide the sum of the job disruption types by the size of the labor force in February. So, the share would be close to zero if few workers moved into these states. And, it would be close to 100 percent if all workers had entered into one of these states since February. The first three types of disruptions maintain workers’ relationships with an employer, in contrast to the latter three. See here for why having a tie to your employer matters.

Share of workers with jobs disrupted in August. The table presents counts of the jobs disrupted in these six ways, for August compared to February. The total disrupted appear below the six types, both in number of workers and as a share of the labor force in February. The first column shows totals for all U.S. workers, while the others break up the total by gender and then by race and Hispanic ethnicity. The bars in Figure A show the share of the labor force with disrupted jobs in April, June and August. Note that I do not have standard errors for these estimates. Small differences, particularly for the smaller population segments, may be due to sampling error, so they bear watching for their persistence.

  • The bottom bars of Figure A show that in August COVID-19 was still disrupting the jobs of 11 percent of the U.S. labor force, a substantial decrease from the 23 percent of jobs disrupted in April.
  • The next sets of bars in Figure A repeat the exercise separately for men and women. Women’s jobs have been more disrupted by COVID-19 than men’s jobs by five percentage points. Although both genders showed improvement in August, the gap did not narrow.
  • Continuing down Figure A, jobs held by white workers have been less disrupted than jobs held by African American, Asian or Hispanic workers. White, Asian and Hispanic workers saw about the same improvement (12 to 14 percentage points) from April to August, while African American workers saw only a 10 percentage point reduction in disruptions.
  • African American and Hispanic workers had a higher share of their jobs disrupted than did white workers. Along with high death rates from COVID-19, these two groups of American workers have seen particularly dire labor market impacts from COVID-19.

Type of disruptions as of August. Figure B shows how each group’s job disruptions are distributed. The percentages shown also appear below the counts of workers in the table (in parentheses), that is, each type’s disruption as a share of all disruptions for the group. The disruptions that preserve the relationship between worker and employer are shown in shades of blue in Figure B. The other segments represent workers who will need new jobs to be reemployed or have left the labor force. What differences we see among groups suggest that white workers and males have fared better than the other groups.

  • As of August, more men whose jobs were disrupted were still working at reduced hours (19 percent compared to 14 percent for women), so they were still earning some income. Also, more women out of the labor force than men said they did not want a job in August (13 percent versus eight percent), possibly in order to care for children or other family members.
  • The share of African American workers retaining a tie to an employer is the smallest (only 56 percent) of any group. The share of disrupted African American workers who want a job, but who have not actively looked for work yet (nineteen percent), is the highest of all the demographic groups. This suggests the presence of continuing barriers to job searches for this group.
  • Asian workers have the smallest share (12 percent) of disrupted workers who have left the labor force and the largest share (49 percent) on temporary furloughs, which explains their high percentage of workers with continuing ties to employers.
  • Hispanic workers also have a low share of disruptions that preserve ties with employers (58 percent) and the highest share of labor force exits (30 percent), suggesting more struggles for reemployment ahead.

Summary. Despite four months of rebound, U.S. job market conditions remain dire. What varies most among the groups examined here is the scale of disruption. While all groups have had very large job disruptions, male workers have had fewer disruptions than women and white workers have had fewer disruptions than African American, Asian or Hispanic workers. As of August, differences in the types of job disruptions sustained show that African American and Hispanic workers are the least likely to retain ties to their employers. These two groups also show the largest share of labor force exits. Neither pattern bodes well for their immediate reemployment prospects.

COVID-19 Job Disruptions as of August 2020, in Thousands
  Total Men Women White Black or African American Asian Hispanic or Latino
Type of job disruption  
Employed workers not at work 3,563
Workers part-time for economic reasons 2,888
Unemployed workers on temporary layoff 5,137
Unemployed workers not on temporary layoff 2,387
Not in labor force who currently want a job 2,211
Not in labor force who don't want a job 1,988
Total disrupted 18,174
Share of disruptions with tie to employer 64% 65% 63% 65% 56% 69% 58%
February labor force 164,235 86,597 77,638 126,954 20,833 10,596 29,750
Total disrupted as a share of February labor force 11% 9% 14% 10% 14% 12% 15%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (Current Population Survey) and author’s calculations. Not seasonally adjusted.

Note: Hispanic or Latino workers may be white, African American or Asian.

COVID-19 job disruptions in April, June and August 2020, as a share of February labor force, by sex, race and ethnicity.
Source:  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (Current Population Survey) and author’s calculations.  Not seasonally adjusted.
Note: Hispanic or Latino workers may be white, African American or Asian.
How COVID-19 Job disruptions are distributed as of August 2020, BY SEX, race and ethnicity.
Source:  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (Current Population Survey) and author’s calculations.  Not seasonally adjusted.
Note: Hispanic or Latino workers may be white, African American or Asian.