On Tuesday this week, a daily call where Gov. Tim Walz’s cabinet members brief the press contained a sobering statistic: unemployment applications in the month-or-so since March 16, when parts of the economy began to shut down due to coronavirus, are now more than double what they were in all of 2019.
These job losses are unprecedented. Between March 16 and Wednesday, 464,513 people, or more than 14 percent of the state’s labor force, have applied for unemployment. Some of those losses may be temporary, while others may not, depending on the depth and breadth of the virus’ economic impact.
Data from the Labor Market Information Office at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development give a clearer picture of what sectors have felt the most pain; they give an approximation of the percentage of all workers in a given field that have applied for unemployment during the crisis up through April 4. It’s not a perfect estimate: for one thing, independent contractors are not included in the total labor force number, but may be counted among those applying for unemployment. Still, the data are a useful tool for approximating the parts of the economy most affected by COVID-19 so far, said Cameron Macht, acting assistant director of the Labor Market Information Office. We’ve removed data from occupations with less than 500 workers from this analysis.
So far, the virus has hit some jobs a lot harder than others.
Personal appearance workers, such as hairstylists and manicurists (many of whom are independent contractors) saw the highest share of applications relative to total employment. After that, it’s other food preparation and serving workers, other sales workers, media and communications equipment workers, other health care support, and other transportation workers, where applications between March 16 and April 4 represent between a third and half of the workforce.
Food and sales job losses aren’t necessarily surprising given the closure of bars, restaurants and other businesses ordered by the governor.
Media companies, from WCCO Radio to Forum Communications, have laid off workers. With many businesses closed, lots of advertisers have pulled the plug. Even the Star Tribune, one of the larger regional newspapers in the country, has instituted furloughs for reporters and pay cuts for top brass, while the Pioneer Press is again offering buyouts.
Other health care support occupations, a category that includes assistants and aides, have seen lots of unemployment applications. Layoffs in health care might seem counterintuitive during a pandemic, but health care systems make a lot of money from elective procedures, which have been called off temporarily due to COVID-19. That’s left many health care workers jobless.
Numbers like this haven’t been seen before, Macht said. “Obviously these are unprecedented numbers. We haven’t really seen claims activity rise the way it has during this three-week, going on four-week period,” he said. “There’s no historical context to put it into.”
Also unclear is how deep these cuts go. If people go back to their jobs, or hold onto them, it could be a different story than if there are lots more losses.
“It’s really hard to speculate whether these are temporary or how long that temporary period is,” Macht said. “That’s beyond what I can provide.”
On the other end of the spectrum, some occupations have been barely affected by layoffs at all.
For example, no funeral service workers have filed for unemployment; though their jobs might change a bit amid COVID-19, their work is still needed.
Less than 1 percent of people working in the fire fighting and prevention and law enforcement occupations have filed for unemployment since March 16. Less than 2 percent of postsecondary teachers, life scientists, lawyers and judges and personal care and service worker supervisors have filed.
Also still very much in demand: Nurses. The category they’re in, nursing, psychiatric and home health aides, has seen less than 5 percent of the workforce apply for unemployment.