The outbreak of COVID-19 has created a substantial economic downturn in the American economy. The numbers of unemployed Americans during this crisis has now increased by 14 million people, and was up to 20.5 million people by May 2020 (Lee, 2020). That’s a substantial increase of more than half compared to the unemployment numbers in the country we saw in February before the COVID crisis had taken hold, when unemployment stood at just 6.2 million. Back in February 2020, the United States unemployment rate stood at just 3.8%, which was one of the lowest records of unemployment in history since the time of World War II (Aaronson & Alba, 2020). The amount of unemployed workers has risen drastically since the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis in the United States. The total percental of unemployed workers in the United States is now higher than what the unemployment rate was during the Great Recession, which occurred from December 2007 to June 2009. During that time, the highest unemployment rate increase was by 8.8 million, when the unemployment rate’s highest point reached 10.6%, which was in January 2010. That number is unfortunately far less than the current unemployment rate (Heather Long, 2020).
In May 2020, it’s estimated that the current unemployment rate shot up as high as 16%, which was initially estimated by the American government. However, that number is just an estimate, and isn’t recorded at that height since other challenges and issues have arisen with unemployment due to the coronavirus outbreak (Aaronson & Alba, 2020). One of those issues is also underemployment, as some previously full-time workers have seen the hours they work cut by as much as one third to a half of their usual time. On top of this, we also see a major decline in the participation in the labor force across the United States, mainly because of the fear of contracting the pandemic, which could also be affecting the massive amount of unemployed and underemployed workers currently existing in the United States. For example, by May of 2020, about nine million Americans not currently in the labor force were out looking for jobs, compared to the 5 million that were doing the same in February, before the outbreak (Lee, 2020). However, the amount of underemployed workers and workers still seeking a job prior to the outbreak are not currently included in the country’s official unemployment measurement. So, to date, it seems that the COVID-19 recession resembles the Great Depression of the 1930s in the United States, when the unemployment rate in this country was as high as 25% (Heather Long, 2020). So, a problem exists now in this country demonstrating that unemployment among just about every group of workers has gone up drastically since the COVID-19 outbreak emerged. However, compared to what these different groups of workers experienced during the Great Recession, the experiences of many groups of workers, including black men and women, have varied drastically as far as unemployment and underemployment is concerned. To better understand these variations, the unemployment rate for women, black men, and people of a certain age will all be assessed to demonstrate how unemployment and underemployment are affecting people of various backgrounds since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Starting with women, this group’s unemployment rate in May stood at 14.3%, which is far above the 11.9% unemployment rate for men. These numbers reflect a difference from the Great Recession. During the Great Recession, the unemployment rate for men stood at 12.3%, and for women it was at 9.4% when at its highest. So, why have women experienced such a drastic unemployment rate increase one compared to men? One of the primary reasons is that females make up the majority of employees that corporations in the hospitality, leisure, and educational market sector employed back in February. When employment in these sectors fell by 39% and then again by 15% during the span of February to May, they become the corporate sectors most affected by the unemployment rate created by the COVID-19 outbreak (Heather Long, 2020). On the other hand, during the Great Recession, many of the jobs that disappeared were found mostly in manufacturing and construction, which were employed by a majority of men, and where not as many women seek employment.
By comparison, during the Great Recession, the unemployment rate for black mean was far more back then that what it is now during the COVID-19 crisis. In May 2020, the unemployment rate for black men stood at 15.8% That’s substantially less than the 21.2% of unemployed black men that experienced the Great Recession (Aaronson & Alba, 2020). Interestingly, black men are the only group in this paper that demonstrate such an unusual gap. Currently, the economic reasons for this don’t seem to be totally obvious. However, many experts feel that this unemployment rate has to do with the current occupations of many black men. For example, when a recession occurs, the sectors that are typically hit the hardest are found in the goods-producing areas, which were greatly impacted by the Great Recession. That helps to explain why black men were hit so much harder as a group than they currently are during the COVID-19 crisis. Also, consider the fact that the unemployment rate for black men was over 20% during the economic downturns of the 1980s. At that time, employment in the manufacturing sector experienced a drastic decline (Heather Long, 2020).
Men in other ethnic groups also demonstrate significantly high unemployment rates during the COVID-19 outbreak. For instance, Hispanic men currently have a significantly high unemployment rate, reaching 15.5% in May 2020. That rate is higher than the rate seen for Asian men at 13.3%, and white men at 9.7% (Lee, 2020). So, unemployment rates for both white men and Asian men have increased significantly since the coronavirus outbreak, but they are still far below the unemployment rate we see currently for both black and Hispanic men.
However, the group that had the highest rate of unemployment by far when compared to others in the same gender is Hispanic women. Their rate of unemployment in May 2020 reached 19.5%, which is the highest among other genders and other ethnic groups. For white women, their unemployment rate increased by nearly five times. During February 2020, the unemployment rate for white women was 2.5% (Lee, 2020). By May 2020, the unemployment rate for white women had jumped to 11.9%. The economy also saw a major increase among Asian women and the unemployment they faced. By May 2020, the unemployment rate for Asian women was up to 16.7%. Even worse is the unemployment rate for black women, which was up to 17.2% in May 2020 (Aaronson & Alba, 2020). White and Asian women have experienced substantial unemployment rates compared to the unemployment rates they faced during the Great Recession. So, the outbreak of COVID-19 has dramatically increased the unemployment rate for almost all groups of women.
Another interesting statistic demonstrates that employees in every age group but one saw their unemployment rate raise into the double digits in May 2020 because of COVID-19. That’s dissimilar from the Great Recession, when only younger workers were drastically impacted by the unemployment rate. Currently, the unemployment rate for younger workers that are between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four is higher than any other group of workers at 25.3%, which is more than twice the unemployment rating we see among workers that are older than thirty-five. Many experts feel this has to do with the number of younger adults that work in high-risk industries, like bars and food services. Many of these workers were substantially affected by the laws of social distancing, which more than likely also dramatically increased the number of underemployed individuals in this age group, as well as their overall unemployment ratings.
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Aaronson, S., & Alba, F. (2020, April 15). The unemployment impacts of COVID-19: lessons from the Great Recession. Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/04/15/the-unemployment-impacts-of-covid-19-lessons-from-the-great-recession/.
Heather Long, A. V. D. (2020, May 8). U.S. unemployment rate soars to 14.7 percent, the worst since the Depression era. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/05/08/april-2020-jobs-report/.
Lee, D. (2020, May 8). Unemployment hits 14.7% in April. How long before 20.5 million lost jobs come back? Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-05-08/jobs-report-labor-market-shock.