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

by Erica Groshen

The COVID-19 pandemic has put many U.S. workers out of their jobs, whether partially or fully, permanently or temporarily. These effects are unequally distributed. This post looks at how job disruptions caused by COVID-19 have affected key groups using data from the May 2020 jobs report (that is, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Situation news release).

I find that male and white workers have fared better than female, African American, Asian and Hispanic workers. By faring better, I mean both that fewer of their jobs have been disrupted and that more of their disrupted jobs retain a tie to an employer. Compared to a permanent layoff, a disruption that doesn’t 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 ways that a worker’s labor market status might have been affected by the pandemic since February, including temporary layoffs, permanent layoffs, labor force exits and short hours. I apply that approach in analyses of the jobs reports for April and May. I won’t repeat that background here, so it may be helpful to read the posts before you go further. 

Six distinct ways the crisis has disrupted (suspended or curtailed) U.S. jobs. Since disruptions can take many forms, I track these six 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 questions 9-13 of this note and 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 of 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 May.  The table presents counts of the jobs disrupted in these six ways, for May 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 May and also in April.  Note that I do not have standard errors for these estimates. The smaller differences, particularly for the smaller population segments, may be due to sampling error, so they will bear watching for their persistence. 

  • The top bars of Figure A show that in May COVID-19 disrupted the jobs of 19 percent of the U.S. labor force. This is a 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 were more disrupted by COVID-19 than men’s jobs in both months. Although both genders showed improvement in May, 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. And, white workers also saw more improvement from April to May that did the other groups. 
  • African American workers had a higher share of their jobs disrupted in both April and May than did white workers. Along with high death rates from COVID-19, African Americans have seen dire labor market impacts from COVID-19.
  • Asian workers saw almost as large a share of job disruptions as African American workers in April, and the least improvement of any of these groups.
  • Hispanic workers had the most job disruptions of any of the groups in April and May, mitigated somewhat by a relatively large improvement in May. 

Type of disruptions as of May. 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.   

  • Overall, 78 percent of disrupted workers still retain a tie to their employers. Forty-five percent are on temporary layoffs (furloughs). If we consider the 14 percent counted as newly employed but not at work to be on temporary layoff, we get 59 percent on temporary layoff. Another large group (19 percent) is working short hours. Very few (1 percent) are unemployed with no connection to an employer. So, we can infer that the people who lost jobs permanently mostly stayed on the sidelines in May and did not look for work. This group can be broken into two segments: the 14 percent who want work and the 7 percent who said they do not want a job in mid-May. Note that people saying they do not want a job in mid-May may plan to rejoin the labor force soon, just not now.       
  • Notably, the distributions of disruptions do not vary strongly among the groups shown here.  They all look fairly similar.  What differences we do see suggest that again, white workers and males have fared better than the other groups.
  • As of May, more men with disrupted jobs retained ties to employers (80 percent) than did women (75 percent). So, more women will need to find a new job than men. In addition, more men are still working at reduced hours (22 percent compared to 16 percent for women), so they are still earning some income. Also, more women than men said they did not want a job in May, possibly in order to care for children or other family members.
  • Compared to white workers, African American workers are less likely to retain a tie to an employer. Unlike the other groups, the number of African American workers who actively looked for work was lower in May than it had been in February. This suggests that many unemployed African American workers stopped searching for work during the crisis.   
  • Asian workers have the lowest share of disruptions that preserve ties with employers (61 percent), suggesting more struggles for reemployment ahead. They have the lowest share working at reduced hours and on temporary layoff. It is consistent that as of May, they have the largest share (18 percent) of disrupted workers out of the labor force who want a job. These workers had not yet begun to search for their next job. In addition, Asian workers also have the largest share that had already begun to look for a new job in mid-May. 
  • Hispanic workers have the lowest share of disruptions that preserve ties with employers (74 percent), suggesting more struggles for their reemployment ahead. 

Summary. Despite May’s modest 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 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 May 2020, the types of job disruptions look fairly similar across groups but do suggest that male workers retain more ties to their employers than women, and that white workers retain more ties to employers than do the other groups. Hence, by these measures, job market prospects going forward for female, African American, Asian and Hispanic workers look worse than those for white and male workers.

COVID-19 job disruptions by May 2020 table
Figure B: How COVID-19 job disruptions 
were distributed as of May 2020, 
by sex, race and ethnicity.

Erica Groshen

  • Extension Faculty, ILR School

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