19 Oct Examining the Impact of COVID-19 on Job-Seekers
It’s been more than six months and the country is still reeling from the national impact of the global pandemic. In that time, the unemployment rate has risen to over 13% and fallen back down to 7%; but the recovery has not been distributed evenly. Research has shown that high-income workers experienced a quick rebound, and the COVID-induced recession has essentially ended for them; conversely, low-wage workers have felt a more sustained impact of the pandemic. We also know that women, youth, and communities of color were disproportionately unemployed throughout the pandemic. Data suggest that all of these demographics have a median savings ranging from just $670 to $2,500 compared to a national median of $7,000. Those who were least able to handle the impact of the pandemic, have also been shouldering most of the burden having likely depleted their modest savings. The question becomes, what can we do to support the most vulnerable populations? Since the pandemic’s start, we have asked the unemployed what they need most right now. While this survey is a small sample size, it can validate local needs within the context of national research.
As we focus on getting people back to work, let us start with the most basic question: are those who became unemployed currently seeking employment? Only 73% of respondents stated they are currently looking for work. This is an illustrative example of a problem with the unemployment rate; while all of these individuals were employed prior to the start of the pandemic, they are not captured in the unemployment rate if they are furloughed or unable to work for medical reasons. These individuals are commonly referred to as ‘missing workers.’ Missing workers are those who, because of a weak economy, are neither employed nor seeking employment. In February, the total number of Mecklenburg County residents in the labor force was 634,601, including 612,810 employed individuals and 21,791 unemployed individuals actively seeking work. Six months later, in August, we saw labor force participation drop by 5% to 601,534. The number of employed individuals decreased by 9%, and the number of unemployed individuals increased by 109%. In addition to the 45,715 individuals unemployed, this suggests there are also 33,067 missing workers that have exited the labor force since February. A recent McKinsey report highlights that missing workers are disproportionately women as 1 in 4 women are considering exiting the workforce.  Paralleling the disproportionality we see in unemployment claims McKinsey also states that mothers, black women, and senior women are feeling it the hardest and black women are 3x as likely as other women to report the death of a loved one in recent months.
With many people working from home today, it seems reasonable to ask if remote work opportunities would help our missing workers return to the labor force? However, 64% of respondents indicated that they are either not interested in remote work or that they would need upskilling to work remotely (32%, respectively, for each). This data imply that a quick fix for employment likely does not exist, and returning missing workers to the labor force will require a more comprehensive solution.
We know that earnings are positively correlated with the ability to work remotely, so understanding that our low-income workers have been most impacted, remote work is unlikely to be a solution without upskilling.
Without a stable source of income or savings, what do unemployed and missing workers need to survive? National research has seen a spike in food insecurity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the number of households experiencing food insecurity jumping from 1 in 10 to 1 in 4. This was also the biggest need identified by our respondents, with 32% saying they need assistance securing food. Local food banks are serving 1,500+ families weekly, double their pre-COVID volume, and there is projected to be a national shortfall for need over the next year.  Food insecurity is not the only issue our unemployed face, as the next most common needs identified were housing and utility assistance.
While we have seen a sharp decline in job postings over the last six months, there is one job type that has seen an increase in Mecklenburg. We have seen a 13% increase in low-wage front line worker positions. These are jobs that are estimated to pay $25,000 or less annually; this wage does not represent a livable wage for even a household of one in Mecklenburg. 
This is important as we will see that even as individuals return to work, they are likely to need continued assistance and supportive services in order to make ends meet. The reality in a post-COVID world is that creating jobs is not enough to help those struggling. A more comprehensive support system that addresses ancillary needs will be needed to stabilize families. To this end, we have created a partnership with Mecklenburg County designed to meet job seekers where they are, provide ancillary support services, and set them up to earn a living wage. If you or someone you know would be a fit for this program, you can learn more here.
 Charlotte Works analysis of Burning Glass job posting data with the Charlotte MSA for jobs estimated to have a market salary of $25,000/per annum or less from 4/1/19- 9/30/19 compared to 4/1/20-9/3/20
 Full Survey results available here: https://www.charlotteworks.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/COVID-19-Career-Displacement-Survey.pdf