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

Paul Roberts, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

Gender is another dividing line. Where the Great Recession of 2008-09 was nicknamed the "man-cession" because layoffs were heavy in male-dominated sectors, like finance and construction, the COVID-19 recession has been harder on women.

In King County, women have filed 51% of ongoing jobless claims, even though they represent 46% of the county labor force, according to Washington STEM.

One reason is that pandemic-related layoffs were concentrated in sectors where women outnumber men, such as the service industry, says Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist for the Employment Security Department who tracks the Seattle area.

For example, the health care sector, where women hold nearly four of five jobs nationally, saw massive layoffs early in the pandemic. Likewise for the leisure and hospitality sector, which is around 70% female. In downtown Seattle, much of the hotel sector has shut down, with total revenue down 95% through mid-June over the same period last year, according to the Downtown Seattle Association.

Another strike against working women: As the pandemic shuttered many childcare centers and schools, parents -- often mothers -- took over many childcare and education duties. In King County, total licensed daycare capacity is down 28% since February, and one in three providers is at risk of permanent closure, according to Child Care Aware of Washington.

Nationally, women with children were 45% more likely than men with children to move from full-time work to part-time work between February and April, according to a new study by Ben Cowan, an associate professor in the School of Economic Sciences at Washington State University.


These disparities point to another economic signature of the COVID-19 recession -- income inequality.

During the Great Recession, Wall Street was among the first sectors to see job losses, followed by housing and construction. That meant "a lot of upper-income white-collar, college-educated people" lost their jobs," says Debra Glassman, principal lecturer of finance and business economics at the University of Washington Foster School of Business. But "that's not the plot line for the current recession."

Instead, Glassman says, the first waves of pandemic-related layoffs struck heavily among workers in lower-paying jobs that don't require a college education.

In King County, a third of continuous jobless claims have been filed by people with the equivalent of a high school degree or less and a median income of $36,508, according to Washington STEM and 2018 U.S. Census data. Yet that demographic group represents barely a fifth of the county population.


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