A coronavirus-led recession could hit jobs for young people and minorities hardest

The service industry is closing down in the US.
The service industry is closing down in the US.
Image: Reuters/Joshua Lott
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Millions of people in the US are likely to lose their jobs during the next few months, but the pain won’t be spread out evenly. People of color and younger workers are the most at risk of becoming unemployed.

As swaths of the US economy are shut down to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis president James Bullard predicts the unemployment rate could hit 30% in the the next few months before economic activity bounces back later in the year. Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi has identified five industries (paywall), employing more than 27 million people, with the most jobs at risk. These industries include leisure and hospitality (16.9 million people), transportation (5.7 million), employment services (3.7 million), mining (662,000), and travel arrangements (222,000).

Quartz dug into the industry data and worker demographics, using US Census data, to see who is likely to be hardest hit by a coronavirus-led recession. Researchers at the Brookings Institution used these same industries to examine which geographical areas are most vulnerable and found that Las Vegas, Nevada and Orlando, Florida are particularly exposed.

The analysis signals that this recession will be particularly challenging for people of color. While about 12.5% of non-Hispanic white Americans work in the most affected industries, this is true for 17.6% of Hispanic workers and 16.8% of blacks. Hispanics make up a large share of employment in the leisure and hospitality industry, and black workers make up a bigger proportion of the transportation sector.

The analysis also suggests young workers are more likely to work in these industries. More than 20% of workers age 18-29 are in one of the five sectors, compared with less than 12% of those in their 40s. More than two-fifths of leisure industry workers are 18-29.


Men are slightly more likely to be in at-risk job sectors than women, at 15% versus 13.2%. This is because 77% of all workers in the transportation industry are men. It is a particularly common job for black men, who are twice as likely to work in that industry as non-black men.

People of color suffered disproportionately during the recession in 2009, and the data shows this downturn is likely also to weigh excessively on these workers and their families in the coming months. US lawmakers, who are now debating a rescue package for an economy halted by the virus breakout, have a chance to learn from history and make sure the most vulnerable people in American society aren’t left behind.