Coronavirus pandemic job losses falling hardest on people who were already hurting

Paul Roberts, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

SEATTLE -- Before the pandemic shut down much of the economy, Logan Madangure had come to see Seattle as a city of opportunity.

Although the 24-year-old Zimbabwean native arrived in Seattle three years ago with only a high-school education and has struggled with the city's high living costs, he had little trouble finding jobs, often several at a time, in the bustling hospitality sector.

That changed abruptly in March, when Madangure's employer, a local cruise company he declined to name, temporarily closed. Now, Madangure doesn't know if his job as an onboard bartender will return, or where his future lies in a labor market he worries is even more divided between haves and have-nots.

While many white-collar workers in the city have been "able to continue their careers working from home" during the pandemic, Madangure says, his own job prospects are "on hold."

Madangure's observations will be familiar to many workers in Seattle and across the state who have lost jobs during the pandemic.

Where previous recessions killed jobs across many industries and demographic groups, layoffs in the COVID-19 era often have been concentrated among workers who were often behind economically before the pandemic. Among them, working moms, younger workers, and workers who are less educated, lower-paid, and non-white.


In King County, Wash., where Black residents account for around 6% of the total population, Black workers make up around 11% of recent layoffs. That's according to a new report by Washington STEM, a Seattle-based nonprofit that has analyzed weekly, or "continuing," claims for jobless benefits filed by unemployed workers during the pandemic.

By contrast, white residents, who make up 63% of the county's population, have accounted for just 48% of pandemic-related unemployment, Washington STEM found.

One factor: Pandemic-related layoffs struck earliest and hardest in sectors where Black workers were already over-represented. That includes food service and lodging, as well as in personal service, such as hair salons, and gig work, says Andrea Caupain, CEO of Byrd Barr Place, a Seattle-based nonprofit that works with low-income families. "Low-wage workers in those industries were the first to go," Caupain says.

The pandemic's economic disparities also show up in other demographic categories. King County residents 34 or younger, who account for roughly 37% of the population, based on statewide figures, make up almost 42% of continuing jobless claims in King County and statewide.


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