Harin Contractor
Tracking the Economic Shock from COVID-19
Harin ContractorJuly 7, 2020

The U.S. Census Bureau conducts the Pulse Survey to measure socioeconomic experiences of the American population during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this post, we look at how expected loss of employment in the next four weeks and high confidence in making rent payments change according to demographics. Specifically, we examine Pulse Survey results from California and Georgia, two states with very different policies regarding timeline and implementation decisions for stay-at-home orders, lifting of restrictions, and now rolling back of openings.

In California, stay at home orders went into effect on March 19, with some “lower-risk” businesses opening May 8th and “higher-risk” businesses opening June 12th. Georgia’s stay-at-home order was issued on April 3rd and expired on April 30th, and the state was the first to reopen on April 24th, with “higher-risk” venue events tentatively set to open July 1st. However, the recent surge in coronavirus cases across the country has dramatically shifted sentiments among workers. Given each respective state’s approach to the pandemic, we see clear differences in economic confidence for workers of color.

Expected Loss of Employment: United States, California, and Georgia

Expected Loss of Employment -- National

Nationally, workers’ confidence in their employment prospects are sharply divided by race. White workers have felt more confident in their employment prospects since the start of the pandemic, while Latinx workers feel least confident in their employment prospects in the coming months; in fact, almost 47% expect a loss of employment. Black workers experienced the second highest proportion of expected employment loss, demonstrating again that the pandemic is disproportionately affecting workers of color. Yet, as the number of coronavirus cases has surged since June 18, all groups feel less confident in their employment prospects.

Expected Loss of Employment -- California

In California, trends for expected loss of employment largely reflect the order of national trends, except for Hispanic and Black workers, for whom the expected loss of employment is greater. The dip in expected employment loss for the Asian demographic in California coincided with the opening of “higher-risk” businesses on June 12, whereas the dip in employment loss coincided for White workers with the opening of “lower-risk” businesses by May 8th. While sentiments around employment remain fairly negative for Black and Latinx workers, it was Asian workers who saw the largest jump in their expectations for employment loss as numbers of coronavirus cases began to surge again in the state.

Expected Loss of Employment -- Georgia

Despite Georgia’s being one of the first states to re-open, the sentiments of its workers are mixed. While White and Asian workers feel the most positive about their employment prospects over the next month, at least 39% of Black workers and 43% of Latinx workers feel they will lack employment over the next month. The uneven recovery coupled with a new spike in cases has meant a major setback for economic prospects for workers of color in the state, as Asian and Black workers expect greater employment loss.

Confidence to Make Rent Payments: United States, California, and Georgia

Rent Payment Confidence -- National

Nationally, there are significant racial disparities in confidence to make rent. Since the beginning of the Pulse Survey, at least 50% of White families have felt highly confident in their ability to make rent, while Black and Latinx families are at or below 27%, with their confidence in making rent worsening as COVID-19 surges. In an environment with a rapidly recovering economy, we would expect larger shifts in confidence, but that does not bear out in the data.

Rent Payment Confidence -- California

Each state’s economic situation is different, with stark differences in confidence in the ability to make rent in California compared to national trends. In California, Black renters had the lowest proportion of those with high confidence in making payments until May 14. Re-opening “lower-risk” businesses on May 8th coincided with an increase in high confidence for Black and White renters, some of which may be attributable to targeted rental assistance programs. But as the opening of “higher-risk business” on June 12th approached, more Black, Asian, and White renters experienced higher confidence in making rent payments. Then, as coronavirus cases soared, Black and White workers experienced a sharp drop in that confidence.

Rent Payment Confidence -- Georgia

In Georgia, the uneven trends of recovery are clear. Following the re-opening of “lower-risk” businesses, White and Asian renters’ confidence to make rent jumped significantly, yet Black and Latinx renters do not have similar confidence. California and Georgia have taken two different approaches to their pandemic response, with their varied policies affecting the confidence of renters in both states; Georgia’s more “hands off” approach does not appear to support Black and Latinx renter’s confidence, and, with coronavirus cases increasing, confidence is dropping for White and Asian renters as well.

The Big Picture

It’s clear that the economic shock and recovery varies drastically by race and geography. When the crisis first began, we examined the potential effects the pandemic would have on communities of color. Unfortunately, many of our concerns have become reality for the groups most adversely impacted by the crisis and who face the steepest challenges to recovery. It’s also increasingly clear that business and government leaders need to engage in policy efforts to support these particular communities to enable an equitable recovery.

At Nexight, we will continue to work not only with our Federal government clients to assess and evaluate ways to create more economic resilience but also with the private sector to support long-term workforce and strategic planning.

Note: Shreya Pabbaraju also contributed to this post.