The coronavirus-induced recession has hit Connecticut’s racial minorities and workers in their 20s and 30s the hardest, according to an analysis last week of more than 343,000 state unemployment claims.
The analysis, conducted by the nonprofit CT Data Collaborative, found that larger shares of the Native American, African American, Hispanic and Asian-Pacific American populations have become unemployed than white residents have.
“This is the oldest story there is about America,” University of Connecticut economist Fred V. Carstensen said of the results, adding that they are disappointing but not surprising.
Longstanding inequalities in wealth, wages and education, which only were exacerbated over the past decade as Connecticut struggled to recover from The Great Recession, left minority workers particularly vulnerable when the COVID-19 outbreak began, he said.
The survey found 14.5% of African-Americans, 13.9% of Hispanics and 13.8% of Asian-Pacific Americans filed for unemployment benefits between March 15 and May 20, compared to 11.2% of the white population.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 66% of Connecticut’s population is white, 16.5% is Hispanic or Latino, 12% is African-American, 5% is Asian-Pacific American and 0.6% is Native American.
Nearly 23% of Connecticut’s Native American residents have filed for unemployment during this period, but that number is driven somewhat by one factor: the two tribal casinos in New London County shut down shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak began.
But for a decade before that, Connecticut was struggling to regain most of the 120,000 jobs it lost in the recession that ran from December 2007 through mid-2009. And what it did gain was often low-paying retail, hospitality and tourism posts, even as it shed jobs in finance, technology, and high-end manufacturing,
“Connecticut was becoming the Florida of the Northeast,” Carstensen said. “What we gained were the type of jobs that are most vulnerable in this type of closedown.”
More than 44% of Connecticut’s hospitality and food services workforce is currently unemployed, and 43% of arts, entertainment and recreation workers are without a job, the new analysis found.
Self-employed, other services, and retail trade round out the top five sectors in terms of unemployment, with 39.7%, 33.8% and 26.9%, respectively, out of work.
Kurt Westby, commissioner of the state Department of Labor, noted Connecticut has provided more than $1.8 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits in a little over two months. “We are glad the agency is able to provide this important safety net,” he said.
Members of the General Assembly’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus said while the racial disparities among the unemployed were anticipated, the shock value of the numbers is intense nonetheless.
“This is really a bright light that’s been shone here,” said Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford, chairman of the caucus. “COVID really provides us with an opportunity to make this right. It is slapping us in the face, literally.”
Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, a caucus member and co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said state officials need to keep these results in mind as they plan Connecticut’s economic recovery.
“This has showed us where we are the most vulnerable in the state,” she said. ‘It would be extremely shortsighted not to take the data and use it to make Connecticut stronger.”
The data collaborative, a public-private partnership that advocates for the public availability of open and accessible data, also found more unemployment among workers age 20-to-29 than among any other age group.
The survey showed that 18.8% of Connecticut’s population in that group lost jobs, followed closely by 16.2% of workers ages 30-to-39.
Unemployment was less severe among the older groups, with 13.4% of workers age 40-to-49 filing for benefits, 13% of those 50-to-59, and 10.2% of those 60-to-69.
The analysis also studies workers younger than 20, finding 2.3% unemployment among this relatively smaller group.
And these age-related results — while plausible — likely understate the struggles young workers are facing during the pandemic and its aftermath, Carstensen said.
“This doesn’t count the thousands of teenagers who aren’t going to have summer jobs” because businesses have closed or are forced to cut labor costs, Carstensen said. And when it comes to internships for college students, “this is going to be the worst summer ever.”