Maine’s economy is making a slow but steady recovery from the depths of the downturn spurred by the arrival of the coronavirus and COVID-19. But like the pandemic recession — which disproportionately affected women, Black workers, and immigrants — the recovery is not coming equally for all Mainers.
First, some level-setting: Unemployment data released today shows that in September, Maine’s unemployment rate was roughly 9 percent.1 Compared to September 2019, almost 50,000 fewer Mainers were working. While that’s an improvement from the April 2020 employment deficit when almost 90,000 fewer Mainers were working versus April 2019, Maine’s recovery is far from complete.
Women Were Hit Harder by Coronavirus Recession
Data on Maine’s unemployment insurance claims paint a clearer picture of who was most affected by the downturn, and who is experiencing the recovery. While unemployment insurance claims do not fully capture the number of people who are out-of-work, they provide a useful measure of how different groups are faring in the current recession.
State claims data show that women were more likely to suffer job losses than men early on in the recession and were still more likely to be unemployed in August.
Recession Worse, Recovery Slower for People of Color
Black, Latino, and Native American workers were hit hardest by the recession and are finding it harder to get back to work than white workers. The experience from other recessions shows that people of color often have a harder time being rehired after they lose their jobs. Discrimination by employers against potential workers is a big cause.
Industries with lower-paying jobs fare worse
One reason for ongoing racial and gender disparities in the recession and recovery is that businesses in lower-paying industries are more likely to employ women and racial minorities than they are to hire white men. For people of color, this Is partly because they are more likely to be discriminated against and denied access to higher-paying jobs, leaving them with few options but low-wage work. Women, who face greater expectations around caregiving, are more likely than men to take jobs in these sectors where shifts can be more flexible. Additionally, these occupations are poorly paid precisely because they are more likely to be held by women and minorities. Employers, for example are inclined to offer women and people of color lower wages.
The COVID-19 epidemic has hit low income workers especially hard. While some middle-class industries, such as education and manufacturing, have also seen large numbers of layoffs, job losses are largest in the following sectors:
- arts and entertainment and accommodation, in which roughly two in five jobs have been lost;
- food service, in which roughly one in five jobs has been lost.
These sectors rely on face-to-face interactions with customers, activities which have been severely limited by the pandemic.
As Maine’s economy begins to climb out of the depths of the recession, state lawmakers need to be aware of those being left behind. Programs to address unemployment need to be targeted at those who need the help most. Most of all, policymakers should not accept a false sense of security by indicators that may show a recovery for some, but not all.
1 This figure represents the full share of Mainers of working age who are not employed, as opposed the headline seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 6.1 percent, which counts only those unemployed Mainers who are currently looking for work. MECEP uses the more inclusive figure because many Mainers who are not actively looking for work may nonetheless have plans to return to the workforce, such as those waiting to return to a temporarily closed business, those unable to work during the pandemic because of fears related to underlying health conditions, or those unable to obtain childcare.