Over the past four weeks, a staggering 22 million Americans filed for unemployment. By one estimate, more than 14 million of those workers had low-income jobs—and as they’re less likely to have emergency savings, they’re in the most precarious position now. A new project from the nonprofit Urban Institute maps out where job losses may be highest across the country.
The five sectors that have taken the most damage are food services, retail, healthcare, construction, and manufacturing. A disproportionate share of low-income people work in those industries, says Graham MacDonald, chief data scientist at the Urban Institute. The researchers took data from Washington state, which reports weekly unemployment numbers by industry, and then extrapolated that across the rest of the country based on the types of jobs low-income workers hold by neighborhood. National numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics are only released once a month, and the organization wanted to provide a national estimate earlier to help with planning relief efforts and directing aid spending.
An estimated 447,506 low-income workers have lost jobs so far in Los Angeles County; in Cook County, in Illinois, an estimated 224,916 low-income workers have lost jobs. In total, across all income levels, as many jobs have now been lost as had been gained in the economic recovery over the last decade. Some economists now estimate that the unemployment rate is between 10% and 20%, and may still be around 10% at the end of the year.
“We’re hoping that this tool can be used to explore the equity implications of all of this and where that money can be best spent,” says MacDonald. The Urban Institute works with other groups that are directly working on relief efforts, which can use the map or explore the underlying data themselves.
Some of the data from Washington state may not translate directly to other areas, but general trends, such as the massive loss of service industry and retail jobs, are happening across the country. The estimate of 14.3 million is even lower than actual numbers, since it doesn’t include independent contractors or gig workers. It also only looks at one type of vulnerability—other low-income workers may still have jobs, as in grocery stores, but could be at high risk of getting sick and then losing money because they can’t work. “This is one piece of the puzzle, and even that number is very large,” says MacDonald. “So it’s definitely really worrisome.”