Unemployment insurance claims during COVID-19: Disparate impacts across industry and demography in New England states Unemployment insurance claims during COVID-19: Disparate impacts across industry and demography in New England states

September 3, 2020
Key Findings
In the 15 weeks between March 15 and August 15, 2020, over 52 million unemployment insurance claims were filed in the United States, representing nearly 36 percent of the insured workforce.

The volume of initial claims in this crisis far exceeded the level seen in the entire 79 weeks of the Great Recession, with the United States exceeding the Great Recession total in 12 weeks (by the week ending May 30) and New England exceeding the total in 10 weeks (week ending May 16).

The peak continuing UI claims rate during the COVID-19 recession far exceeds anything seen in prior recessions, with rates already three to four times larger than during the Great Recession in New England states.

With the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, parts of the economy came to a screeching halt. Retail outlets that did not sell groceries or other essential goods were closed. Entertainment, drinking at bars, dining at restaurants, and cultural events ceased. Schools and day cares closed, and parents lost many available child care options. Almost immediately, there were declines in demands for other services like mass transit. It therefore comes as no surprise that unemployment insurance claims immediately skyrocketed as people were furloughed, laid off, experienced pay-cuts, or left work for health and family care reasons. In essence a partial economic shutdown was enacted to keep people home and curb the spread of the virus. Enhanced financial support was necessary for those who could not work remotely or work and juggle health and family care needs to avoid widespread material deprivation, and there was widespread uptake of enhanced unemployment insurance benefits. The purpose of this brief is to better understand the nature of pandemic-related high unemployment: where it was first felt in terms of industry, occupation, geography, and demographic characteristics, and how it varied across the New England states. We begin by exploring trends in the weekly unemployment insurance (UI) claims data for regular state benefits, excluding special programs, the quickest available source for monitoring unemployment. We then turn to monthly UI data to make more nuanced comparisons within the region. Throughout our analysis, we consider how observed patterns vary by gender, race-ethnicity, and age, to the extent the data allow such comparisons, and consider some of the potential mechanisms behind observed differences.

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