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April 17, 2020; Los Angeles Times

A study conducted by the Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research at the University of Southern California (USC) finds that unemployment is rising fastest in communities of color. Called the Understanding Coronavirus in America study, the survey has tracked 5,500 adults nationwide since the pandemic shutdown began. The survey finds that 15 of 100 surveyed whites have lost their jobs in the past month, compared to 18 percent of Latinx respondents and 21 percent of Black respondents.

If one extrapolates from these figures, that implies that 25.5 million have lost jobs in the US since the pandemic shutdown began, a number that is about 3.5 million greater than the 22 million unemployed officially reported. Nationally, the survey estimates that the percentage of people with jobs has fallen from 62 percent to 52 percent.

“Under normal circumstances losing a job without access to benefits would be bad enough, but in the current situation, chances of finding a new job are likely to be close to nonexistent,” notes center director Arie Kapteyn in a press statement. Kapteyn adds that, “These changes are nothing less than catastrophic for those affected.”

Because USC is based in Los Angeles, the researchers decided to maintain a representative sample of both Los Angeles County and the US as a whole. L.A. County, home to 9.8 million people, is easily the most populous county in the United States. In the survey, L.A. County residents are intentionally over-represented to allow for meaningful tracking of L.A. County results, with about 1,100 of the 5,500 surveyed individuals residing within the County. The survey data that is collected is updated daily and can be accessed on a publicly available website. The L.A. County figures provide a useful microcosm of the shutdown’s economic effects.

One theme that arises quickly from the L.A. County data is that L.A. County is worse off than the nation as a whole. Before the shutdown, 61 percent of County residents were employed. Now, only 45 percent are. In other words, more than one of every four County residents who were employed at the beginning of March no longer has a job. An estimated 1.3 million people in the County have lost their jobs.

In the County survey, people were asked to estimate their chances of running out of money within the next three months. A total of 33 percent indicated they expect to be out of money by that time. Nationally, 22 percent indicated they expected to run out of money within three months.

As has been noted before, the pandemic has had starkly unequal effects on communities of color in terms of both case incidence and mortality. Increasingly, data are showing this is also the case with employment.

As Anna North pointed out in Vice earlier this month, “Overall, the lesson of the pandemic so far is that while the virus itself can infect anyone, those hit hardest by the national and worldwide crisis around it are those who were already hurting—experiencing racism, housing instability, job insecurity, and other ills that disproportionately affect marginalized communities around the country. And many fear that unless policymakers do more to address the disparate impacts of the virus, the result will be a country that’s more unequal than it was before, even long after the pandemic is over.”—Steve Dubb