Erie Vital Signs COVID-19 Pandemic Blog #2

May 26th, 2020, 12:26 PM

In our last discussion of the national COVID-impacted employment statistics and their probable impact on Erie's demographic groups, we discussed the likelihood of the unemployment impact on persons working in certain industry sectors, and the racial/ethnic distribution within those sectors in Erie County. We now have available to us the recent unemployment claims data for Erie County, and have analyzed that data in line with our previous assumptions.

For the period of analysis, unemployment was felt relatively equally among each total workforce demographic in Erie County. Cumulatively, unemployment between March and April was 17% for White workers and 15% for Workers of Color. Explored below, the disparity emerges when considering which sectors are likelier to return to a working normal and whose unemployed will resume employment faster than others. Preliminarily, we find that sectors receiving or slated for reduced lockdown measures reduce the number of White unemployed workers by 50%, while over 60% of Workers of Color unemployed are within sectors with lasting restrictions impeding their return. Further indication of the speed of recovery remains to be seen until May's unemployment statistics have been released.

Note: Persons of Color within the analysis represent the demographic groups: Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, American or Alaskan Native, Asian, and Two or More Races.

Firstly, we establish that the period under analysis is March 1 through April 30, 2020 and the area of concern for all unemployment claims is Erie County. These are initial unemployment "claims", meaning that these are persons newly applying for unemployment during those months only. Below is a breakdown of those claims, by sector:


We find an increase in unemployment matching what was experienced by many local economies, representing lockdown measures and health guidelines, with some sectors experiencing an easier transition to remote work and social distancing while others temporarily halted. Their reduction in output affects their employment, and it's within this unemployment that we aim to highlight the effect on the individual. Next, we show each sector's demographic distribution, as of 2019 (Esmi):

Without possessing the demographic data for unemployment claims, the assumption made below is that the unemployment experienced per sector was even among all demographics, such that the 26.9% unemployment within the Leisure and Hospitality sector affected White Workers and Workers of Color equally. Assuming such, below is the share of unemployment experienced by demographic distribution per sector:


 Via the calculation used in the above chart, we below present the relative unemployment per demographic category across all industry sectors.



 From a disparity standpoint, the overall range of the unemployment rates among Erie's different demographic groups is a positive aspect, representing an evenly distributed blow to our workforce due to the impact of COVID on our industries. But, as restrictions ease and some sectors return to a working normal while others cannot yet resume operations, how will this affect Erie County workers seeking to return to work? While we don't yet have the unemployment data which would answer how easing back into operations is affecting the unemployment statistics, let's quickly analyze the workforce demographics of the sectors which have received reduced restrictions:



 Highlighted in the table above is the unemployment for specific sectors: Trade, Transportation, and Utilities; Construction; and Manufacturing. These sectors have already seen, or are under consideration, for reduced restrictions on operations due to COVID-19 and will see a return to output and employment as such. Due to the demographic distribution of employment within these sectors, however, we see that were unemployment to reduce, that 50.3% of the unemployed White workforce would benefit from these sectors' operations, while only 33.0% for Persons of Color.

To drive this point further, as we discussed in the last post, our more service-, leisure-, and hospitality-oriented sectors employ a larger percentage of Persons of Color than they do the White workforce. With these sectors still acutely affected by the COVID-19 response and experiencing a slower easement of restrictions, the unemployed in these sectors will return to work more slowly. As a result, the following table highlights the demographic breakdown of these sectors by race/ethnicity, and shows that for all races/ethnicities besides White the majority return to employment will be slower:


Recall these percentages, while high, only represent the unemployed of those sectors; we've shown that within these two months that unemployment did not top 20% economy-wide. We highlight this information not as a criticism of restrictions, easements, sector guidelines, or government decision-making. The aim of this analysis is to remind that even while things have seemingly peaked, and a return to normal is making its slow ascent, that disparity did not pause for lockdown. There exist workers in Erie which, like their employers, will feel the impact longer than others.

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