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Employment during COVID-19 by the numbers

  • Employment during COVID-19 by the numbers

    When the COVID-19 outbreak hit the U.S. in force, many states implemented their own mandatory closures of nonessential businesses and social distancing orders to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. But while many countries around the world unveiled nationwide measures that reduced infection rates enough to safely reopen, the varied responses among U.S. states meant many reopened without getting the virus firmly under control with proper social-distancing measures or enough tests to track COVID-19's spread. The result? Major losses both in terms of the economy as well as human life.

    Stacker looked at news articles, research from government agencies, industry reports, and information from think tanks to learn more about how COVID-19 is affecting employment. And while there have been a few bright spots, like some small increases in wages and more flexible working arrangements, employment overall has been experiencing serious consequences from the pandemic.

    With businesses forced to close or operate at limited capacity—and with little help from the government to staunch the losses—many employers have had to lay off or furlough entire swaths of their workforce. The unemployment rate surged to a record-breaking 14.7% in April 2020, with a total of 23 million unemployed. While those rates have decreased in subsequent months, August reports showed an 8.4% unemployment rate

    And the layoffs keep coming. Tens of thousands of airline workers lost their jobs Oct. 1, just two days after Disney announced it was laying off 28,000 workers. These massive layoffs reflect the catastrophic effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the travel and tourism industry. But virtually every sector of the economy has been hit, with restaurants, retail, banks, museums, manufacturing, and media companies furloughing and laying off workers and sometimes filing for bankruptcy. 

    The newly jobless join the millions of other out-of-work Americans struggling to keep up with bills and medical treatments, facing down looming evictions and foreclosures, and navigating complicated state systems for unemployment compensation. A one-time $1,200 check and additional $600 a week supplement to unemployment benefits was a lifeline that expired in July; when Congress failed to pass another stimulus bill, President Trump halved the payment to $300 a week and left it up to individual states to distribute money, creating a lag in dispersement. That stimulus is already over in some states. Democrats introduced a new bill at the end of September that would send another $1,200 stimulus check and return to the weekly $600 supplement to federal unemployment. America's stimulus stands in stark relief compared to European countries, which have prevented the kind of joblessness and financial woes through heavily subsidized wages, with some governments taking over payrolls. 

    With more than 200,000 Americans dead because of COVID-19 and millions more affected, the human toll of the virus is staggering. It’s going to be a long time before we truly understand the overall toll the coronavirus has taken on employment in the U.S., but some recent statistics related to workers paint a grim picture. Read on to see some staggering numbers about employment during COVID-19.

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  • International Labour Organization predicts millions of global job losses

    After initially predicting that the coronavirus would threaten 25 million jobs, the chief of the International Labour Organization (ILO) revised its forecast in April 2020 to predict that full or partial lockdown orders would impact the equivalent of 195 million full-time jobs. The ILO's latest report from Sept. 23, 2020, shows how conservative that estimate was: The equivalent of 495 million full-time jobs have been lost globally, with more expected. The job losses are contributing to an increase in the inequality between richer and poorer countries.

  • 227 hospitals furlough or lay off health care workers

    When elective procedures were suspended to reserve services for COVID-19 patients in the early months of the pandemic, many U.S. hospitals and health care systems experienced a revenue crunch. Layoffs and furloughs affected workers at 266 hospitals trying to cut costs in April, May, and June, according to Becker’s Hospital CFO Report. The back half of the summer saw some states allow elective procedures; some hospitals recalled furloughed staff, but some have still to return to to work. Twenty-two hospitals laid off furloughed workers in September.

  • Working remotely becomes a reality for millions of Americans

    As concern about COVID-19 began growing in early March, companies took measures to protect their employees. A survey of 158 national and multinational firms in North America found that 46% of employers had implemented a remote work policy as of early March. By June around 35% of American workers had moved to remote working, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Some companies, like Twitter, made remote working permanent. But many others had their workers return to offices, prompting OSHA and the CDC to publish guidelines and best practices to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace. 

  • Unemployment claims eclipse 30 million in U.S.

    The coronavirus pandemic has caused record layoffs in the U.S. In March and April 2020, 30 million Americans had applied for unemployment benefits. April's 14.7% unemployment rate shattered records. After steady improvements, figures in July showed the economy was backsliding, and the latest numbers from September show more unemployment filings and a sluggish economy.

  • Government boosted weekly unemployment benefits by $600—but failed to renew payments

    Workers who’ve lost their jobs could receive an extra $600 a week in their unemployment benefits as part of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. The program ended in July, eventually replaced with a $300/week supplement after Congress failed to pass another stimulus bill. The $300 payments have ended in most states. 

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  • 26.7 million workers exposed to infection monthly in March

    Using federal employment data, researchers at the University of Washington estimated in early March that 26.7 million workers in the U.S. are exposed to COVID-19 or other infections at least once a month. What’s more, 14.4 million workers may be exposed to infection once a week.

  • With $600 supplement, unemployment paid more than wages in 38 states

    Unemployment benefits usually provide workers with about 40% of lost wages—but that changed with the $600 supplement. Unemployment benefits during the time the federal government added $600/week were equal to or higher than typical wages for the lost jobs in 38 states, according to Ernie Tedeschi, an economist at Evercore ISI. 

  • Senate doesn't pass 'Heroes Act'

    In May the House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion stimulus bill that would have included hazard pay for essential workers. The Senate did not take it up and President Trump promised to veto the bill if they did. 

  • Education Department garnishes wages of 285,000 workers

    From March 13–26, 2020, around 285,000 workers who fell behind on their student loan payments had their wages garnished by the Department of Education. They’ve proposed a class action lawsuit that alleges the garnished wages are a violation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

  • Amazon hikes minimum wage by $2 per hour, for a limited time

    Amid surging online orders during the pandemic, Amazon increased the minimum hourly pay for associates from $15 to $17 through May. Despite offering a small pay bump, the online retailer has been criticized for allegedly failing to “thoroughly sanitize infected warehouses” and tell its employees about confirmed cases of coronavirus, a problem which continues.

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