According to WorkForce West Virginia, West Virginia lost 90,100 jobs in April, as the COVID-19 pandemic and the response to it rocked the state’s economy. Since the end of March, 157,807 West Virginians have filed for unemployment insurance.
This week, the Department of Labor released data on the characteristics of those who filed unemployment claims in April. With that information, we are able to tell who has been most affected by job losses and what industries have been hit hardest. And while no demographic group or industry was unaffected, the impact of the job losses have not been equal.
Overall, the number of West Virginians claiming unemployment benefits increased from 14,154 in March to 146,566 in April, an increase of 132,412, or 936%.
Women made up most of that increase. The number of women claiming unemployment benefits increased from 3,111 in March to 76,075 in April, an increase of 72,964 or 2,345%. Women accounted for 51.9% of April’s unemployment claims, compared to just 22.0% of March’s.
There was also a clear racial disparity in the increase in unemployment claims. The number of white West Virginians claiming unemployment benefits increased from 12,552 in March to 101,019 in April, an increase of 88,467 or 705%. For black West Virginians, the increase was from 445 to 19,221, an increase of 18,776 or 4,219%.
The age of workers also showed a disparity in the increase in unemployment. The number of West Virginians aged 24 and younger claiming unemployment benefits increased from 1,044 in March to 23,504 in April, an increase of 22,460 or 2,151%. For prime age workers (ages 25 to 54) the number claiming benefits increased from 9,631 to 93,864, a 875% increase, and for older workers over 55, the number claiming benefits increased from 3,477 to 29,116, an increase of 737%.
Another way to see the disparate impacts of job loss on different demographics is to compare each demographic’s share of the state’s labor force to it’s share of April’s unemployment claims. For instance, women make up 46% of the state’s labor force, but made up 52% of April’s unemployment claims. Black West Virginians make up only 3.3% of the state’s labor force, but accounted for 13% of April’s unemployment claims. Workers under the age of 24 make up 13% of the state’s labor force, but made up 16% of April’s unemployment claims.
While it is true that COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way, the magnitude of the impact has been anything but universal. And the disparate impact is deeply rooted in historic and ongoing social and economic injustices.
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