The recession caused by the coronavirus has hit Pennsylvania women and people of color particularly hard, as they are more likely to work in jobs that can’t be done remotely, according to a new report.
Bars, restaurants, and retail stores that were forced to close their doors disproportionately employ women and people of color, the Keystone Research Center said in a report released Wednesday. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania workers in health care, warehouses, and grocery stores — who have worked front-line jobs during the pandemic — are nearly two-thirds female, 50% more likely to be Black, and slightly more likely to be Hispanic.
“I suppose a silver lining of sorts out of this crash is that the language of ‘essential workers’ has resulted in some broader recognition of the importance of the work those folks do,” said Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center. “What that debate drives home is that those workers need, in general, to be paid more.”
The findings from the left-leaning think tank offer an explanation of why women and people of color have borne the brunt of the economic downturn. As of June in Pennsylvania, the unemployment rates for Black and Hispanic people were 22% and 19.7%, respectively, compared with 12.2% for whites, the report said. Nationally, the women’s unemployment rate was 10.6% in July vs. 9.8% for men. About 55.4% of Pennsylvania workers receiving unemployment assistance were women as of Aug. 22, compared with 44.6% for men, state data shows.
The Great Recession harmed industries dominated by men, such as construction, Herzenberg said. The current downturn has focused its impact on low-wage workers with jobs in sectors such as retail and food service that must be done in person, and employ a large concentration of women and people of color, the report said.
The report also found that many immigrants have been denied pandemic social benefits despite risking their lives at work. It cited a Migration Policy Institute estimate of 183,000 undocumented immigrants and their families in Pennsylvania who are ineligible for federal stimulus funds.
The annual “State of Working Pennsylvania” report said Pennsylvania’s economy shrank faster than the nation’s during the pandemic, then partially recovered. By July, Pennsylvania had regained 48% of the 1.1 million jobs it lost from February to April, while the nation recovered 42% of the 22 million jobs lost in the United States during the time period, the report said.
The state’s faster job growth could be “the start of a payoff for declining infection rates,” the report said.