The pandemic's impact on workers and the economy has been the subject of real worry over the past 14 months. A new study from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) suggests the state avoided the worst scenario: widespread, long-term unemployment.
But tens of thousands were still hit hard. One in every four workers that filed for unemployment benefits last spring remained jobless into the winter.
The data, DEED says, "gives reason for optimism about a quick recovery," yet also highlights challenges in helping workers in the hardest-hit industries find jobs in "high-performing" sectors.
Unemployment was short-term for many
DEED's study focuses on individuals who were laid off or furloughed from March to June of 2020, during the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During that time, 631,040 people filed for unemployment benefits, suggesting mass layoffs and furloughs amid new public health policies and restrictions. The unemployment rate in May was 9.9%.
By that summer, however, three out of every four filers were back on the job.
- An estimated 59% (374,986) were rehired by their previous employers
- About 9% (56,800) found a job with a different company
- And 7% (46,935) continued to work a second job they'd held prior to the pandemic
"Fewer broken bonds between employee and employer is good news for the recovery," DEED says in the study.
The most recent data for April 2021 in Minnesota showed an unemployment rate of 4.1%.
Employment didn't always last
This rebound didn't last for everyone. About one-third of those who were rehired or found a job with a new employer applied for unemployment once again between October and December of 2020.
This suggests the virus' surge during the late fall and winter months may have resulted in another round of layoffs. DEED doesn't have recent enough data to know if they are back working, or if the unemployment spell has continued.
Those who remained unemployed
Of course, these figures come with a flip side: Nearly one in four workers who filed for unemployment were still jobless months later.
Of those 631,040 filers, 21% continued to receive unemployment benefits into the summer and were not working. These individuals "bore the brunt of the pandemic recession," DEED says, adding they are the group "most at risk of prolonged unemployment."
The disparities are also alarming.
Black workers who had filed for unemployment were the least likely to be recalled by their employer – only 42% regained their job. They were also the most likely to remain unemployed (47%), followed by American Indians/Indigenous (31%) and mixed-race (30%).
Sixty-three percent of white workers who had filed for unemployment got their job back, the highest percentage of any racial or ethnic group.
The remaining 3% of the 631,040 claimants not only did not file an unemployment insurance claim after June 2020, but also did not return to work. DEED says the data is too limited to know why, but suggests a possible mix of workers retiring, and individuals dropping out of the labor force over fears of contracting COVID-19.
Occupations most at-risk of long-term job loss
Certain occupational groups have shown a better chance of rebounding than others. The healthcare (practitioners and technical), architecture and engineering, and construction and extraction industries showed the lowest rates of unemployment in summer 2020 - suggesting they were among the least-impacted occupational groups.
On the other end, 36% of unemployment insurance claimants in the art/design/media/entertainment/sports space remained jobless into the summer. Here's the full list: