Racial and ethnic disparities in who receives unemployment benefits during COVID-19

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The impact of COVID-19 on job displacement in the United States has been unevenly experienced by race, ethnicity, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged. Although unemployment benefits may mitigate the effects of job displacement, this social safety net is also unevenly distributed across workers. We examine racial/ethnic differences in receiving unemployment benefits among workers displaced by the pandemic. We use data from the US Census Household Pulse Survey (HPS), which is specifically designed to capture the real time effects of the pandemic across a wide spectrum of social issues. (US Census, 2020) Unlike the Current Population Survey (CPS) data used in the monthly unemployment rate calculations, the HPS data allow us to identify workers directly displaced from their jobs by the pandemic. We analyze over 1.3 million HPS interviews from the first stage of the pandemic when the disruptions to the labor market were the most severe, covering the period from June 11, 2020 to December 22, 2020. We contribute to the literature on the labor market effects of the pandemic in two ways. One, the HPS data allow us to identify workers who directly experienced job loss as a result of the disruptions created by COVID-19 and to determine who did not receive unemployment insurance. Two, we present both bivariate and multivariate analyses to examine racial/ethnic disparities for five groups: non-Hispanic whites, Blacks, Hispanic, Asian, and non-Hispanic Other workers. We find that Black and Hispanic workers are more likely to be unemployed without Unemployment Insurance (UI). Black workers are 12.0% of the employed but 17.5% of displaced workers without UI. Hispanic workers are even more affected. Hispanic workers are 15.6% of the employed, but are 23.4% of all displaced workers without UI. Although there are limitations to using the HPS data—the survey was administered online in only English and Spanish and occupational and industry data are not available for displaced workers, the results still provide valuable insights informing the current policy debate about the effects of expanding UI.