Erie Vital Signs COVID-19 Pandemic

April 21st, 2020, 3:30 PM

Employment Distribution

One of the more up-to-date data sources analyzed as part of Erie Vital Signs is the Current Employment Statistics (CES) made available by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) which releases nationwide, statewide, and local area employment data as segmented by industry of employment.  These are monthly reports which document the state of the workforce through the fluctuation in hiring and separations.  While they generally take a month to analyze the numbers, a downward trend nationally has emerged across several sectors within the month of March, during the very beginning wave of workplace disruptions.

Nationally, BLS reported last week, as part of its monthly The Employment Situation, that in March, the total U.S. nonfarm payroll employment fell sharply, down -701,000, and cited the effects of the "coronavirus and efforts to contain it." In perspective, in the prior 12 months, U.S. nonfarm employment growth had averaged +196,000 per month.  About two-thirds of the present -701k drop occurred in leisure and hospitality, mainly in food services and drinking places.  Notable employment declines also occurred in health care and social assistance, professional and business services, retail trade, and construction.

While BLS releases national employment statistics at the beginning of each month, the state and local data analysis are not released until the end of the month.  As such, EVS is eager to report on the local industry effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, and will report on the impact on employment locally when data is available in a few weeks.  That said, we would like to take this moment to highlight an analysis which we can infer from these national statistics, coupled with our own in-house familiarity with Erie's economic and demographic makeup.

The following industries, the ones BLS has cited as experiencing a drop in employment due to COVID-19, made up just over half of all employment in Erie County in 2019, at 50.3%:

  • Construction
  • Retail Trade
  • Health Care and Social Assistance
  • Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation
  • Accommodation and Food Services
  • Other Services (except Public Administration)

We understand that industries' workforces are different across many variables, so for the purpose of this analysis we have selected two to report here quickly: race/ethnicity and age.

Concerning the racial/ethnic workforce breakdown among these industry sectors in Erie County, the following is reported, as a percentage of their cohort:

Two or More Races


Black or African American




Hispanic or Latino




Adding clarification, the way to read this is to understand that of all Asians in Erie County, 45.9% of them work in either Construction, Retail Trade, Health Care and Social Assistance, Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation, Accommodation and Food Services, or Other Services (except Public Administration).

Concerning the workforce age breakdown amongst these industry sectors in Erie County, the following is reported, as a percentage of all workers in their cohort:

Age 14-18


Age 19-21


Age 22-24


Age 25-34


Age 35-44


Age 45-54


Age 55-64


Age 65+



Through these lenses, we find that within Erie County, the currently employed workforce most likely affected by COVID-19 and associated containment effect on industry output skew younger and are higher in representation of populations of color both Black or African American and those of Two-or-More Races. These segments of the workforce will continue to be affected as the containment measures last, but also throughout the normalization of the retail and service economies, which could take a much longer period of time for a return to pre-COVID levels, while all earners slowly return to normalcy in their shopping, dining, and entertainment habits and discretionary spending.

This EVS analysis is the first in a series into how COVID-19 affects Erie's community through the lens of data categories in which we provide yearly analyses. This dive into national employment trends is relevant as a measure to those who are currently employed and could or have been affected than simply analyzing unemployment trends. Unemployment represents a reactionary data source, whereas employment trends provide Erie with a proactive display of the market forces which could play out at our level, the momentum of hiring and separations in industries relevant to our economy and more likely to affect our community.

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