Turning Back the Clock: The Decline of Workforce Diversity in the Age of Coronavirus

We analyzed the latest CPS survey and found that even in industries where women make up a smaller share of total employment, they still saw a larger negative change in employment. The same was true when we analyzed the effects on minorities.

Considering the many devastating consequences imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, from the public health crises to the economic aftershocks, no pandemic trend is more distressing than the resurgent popularity of the phrase “we’re all in this together,” when for starters unemployment numbers tell us that maxim is categorically untrue. The disingenuous phrase summons an infuriatingly irksome High School Musical tune, now the most facetiously naïve phrase of the decade quoted by everyone from politicians, to media talking heads, to your grandmother. Its meaning is respectable on the surface, implying that we of all sexes, races, religions, politics, and income brackets are equally threatened by a global, deadly super virus. The problem is, it woefully excludes one poignant factor – that some of these sexes, races, religions, politics and income brackets are much more prepared to shoulder the many burdens imposed by the coronavirus pandemic than others.

The latest Current Population Survey (CPS) numbers shed light on this harsh reality. CPS is a monthly survey of households that provides insight on employment, education, incomes, and other economic metrics. One study showed the number of male and female employees decreased within 14 of the 20 sectors examined between 2019 and 2020. Out of those 14 sectors, the number of female employees declined at a higher rate than the number of male employees within 10 sectors. Many of these declines were in sectors with a significant share of female employees, such as Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation, Accommodation, and Food Services; however, other sectors where women constituted a smaller share of total employees such as Professional, Technical and Scientific Services, or Finance and Insurance, still saw a larger negative change in female unemployment compared to their peers. This meansAmerican women lost jobs over the past year at an alarming rate compared to men.

Since there are no sectors where women comprise over 50% of the workforce, we have defined a sector as dominated by women if at least 40% of workers are female.

Unemployment has disproportionately affected the most vulnerable segments of our society. Of course, unemployment isn’t a walk in the park for anyone, but when compounded with food scarcity, housing insecurity, healthcare concerns, childcare responsibilities, and an overall lack of financial opportunities, it can be a fatal blow to some Americans while being just a nuisance to others. Unfortunately, unemployment in the age of coronavirus has fallen exactly across these lines, affecting some industries more than others, such as those dependent on in-person interactions or those without the capital to adjust to the virtual demands of our new economy. For those companies, their employees are often women or racial/ethnic minorities who also shoulder a cross of socioeconomic inequalities that makes unemployment a particularly harrowing experience for them compared to their lesser burdened peers.

The numbers aren’t much better when comparing the rate of change in sectoral employment between minorities and non-minorities, and these employees decreased within 16 out of 20 sectors between 2019 and 2020. Out of those 16 sectors, the number of minority employees declined at a higher rate than the number of non-minority employees within 11 sectors. Many of the same sectors that saw a higher decrease in female employees compared to male employees such as Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation or Accommodation and Food Services also saw a higher decrease in minority employees compared to non-minority employees, though these discrepancies were much larger. While minorities made gains in sectors such as Public Administration, Utilities, and Finance and Insurance, they were doubled by increases in non-minority employees.

It makes sense that minorities and women will experience higher rates of unemployment where they comprise a higher share of total employees, but the numbers also show a startling trend wherein minorities and women experience higher rates of unemployment within sectors where they comprise a small share of total employees.

To remain consistent with our analysis of women-dominated sectors, we have defined sectors as dominated by minority workers if at least 50% of those workers are nonwhite.

These analyses also reveal an extremely worrisome consequence of the coronavirus pandemic: an increase in demographic homogeneity of the American workforce. With increased employee turnover among women and minorities across the economy at-large, the current labor pool is less diverse and threatens to turn back the clock on decades of socioeconomic progress. Women and minorities are more susceptible to economic hardships than their counterparts which could further threaten our nation’s recovery – if a recovery is even attainable with such glaring inequality across so many industries. Policymakers and the private industry alike are beginning to contend with this issue, but it remains to be seen whether corrective actions will sufficiently reverse the damage that has been done. We may all be in this together, but some are really more “in it” than others, and that is a problem for all of us.