Unemployment and COVID-19: In New England, who is struggling to recover? Unemployment and COVID-19: In New England, who is struggling to recover?

New data tool gives unique view into changes in region’s unemployed since pandemic New data tool gives unique view into changes in region’s unemployed since pandemic

June 28, 2022

Unemployment in the U.S. has shifted between extreme highs and lows since the onset of COVID-19. But how has it impacted New England’s different industries, communities, and residents since March 2020? And how might that information shape unemployment assistance during a future economic downturn?

To help answer these questions, researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston created a new data tool called “Unemployment Insurance Claim Rates as a Share of Workforce.”

The tool gives a month-by-month, state-by-state breakdown of the continuing unemployment insurance claims (also called unemployment benefits) filed across New England. It breaks down the population that continued to file claims by state, industry, gender, age, and race and ethnicity.

The result is a unique, detailed, and evolving picture of the unemployed.

“We’re trying to introduce an unbiased measure of COVID’s impact on the labor market in New England,” said Kremena Ivanov, a senior data analyst at the Boston Fed. “This (tool) shows a holistic picture of the real impact on specific industries.”

“Continuing claims” show evolution of unemployed population over time

The tool is part of a series of Community Development Issue Briefs that track continuing unemployment insurance claims in New England during the pandemic. It uses public data reported by the U.S. Labor Department Employment and Training Administration and the U.S. Census Bureau Quarterly Workforce Indicators. Researchers will continue to update the tool as more recent data is released.

Boston Fed Director of Data and Analytics Robert Clifford, one of the co-authors of the briefs, described two common measures of unemployment used in economics: 

  • The “unemployment rate” includes members of the workforce who are actively searching for employment. It does not include those who have left the workforce due to retirement, child care needs, or other reasons.
  • “Initial unemployment claims” are the first claims filed by eligible unemployed individuals after losing a job.

Unlike other measures, the continuing claims rates tracked by the tool provide detailed demographic information about those filing for unemployment insurance over time, Clifford said.

“When policymakers are thinking of ways to target unemployment insurance assistance and expanded benefits during future periods of high unemployment, this could be one way to help guide them in terms of understanding the demographics,” he said.

Boston Fed Assistant Vice President Beth Mattingly, a co-author of the brief, said it’s important to take multiple measures into account when studying unemployment, and to be aware of who is included and excluded from each. For example, she said, many people are not eligible for unemployment insurance for a variety of reasons, such as how they lost their jobs.

Researchers share key findings from updated analysis 

In addition to making the tool publicly available, the authors provided key observations from their own data analysis in an updated brief, “Unemployment insurance claims in New England across the COVID-19 pandemic: Updates through June 2021.”

Clifford said they focused on which populations have been disproportionately impacted by unemployment and how that’s evolved. Here are a few key findings from the updated brief:

  • After spiking in the late spring and early summer of 2020, continuing unemployment insurance claims in New England declined by June 2021. But they remained higher than pre-pandemic levels.
  • Between June 2020 and June 2021, gender disparities in continuing claims across the region decreased.
  • Massachusetts saw the highest rates of continuing claims, due in part to its population of industries hard-hit by the pandemic, such as accommodation and food services, and transportation and warehousing.
  • In states that report ethnicity, Hispanic/Latino workers had higher continuing claims rates as of June 2021.

Read the full brief here, and access the data tool here

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