Pandemic Jobs Recovery Not Equal for All Earners, New Report Shows

A Mexican restaurant adapts to the Covid-19 lockdown.
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Employment growth in the United States hasn’t extended to everyone, as lower-income workers continue to lag behind others in terms of overall job gains since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report.

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Jobs for workers with annual incomes below $27,000 were down about 22% as of July 23 compared with mid-January 2020, CNBC reported Monday, citing data from Opportunity Insights, an economic research initiative based at Harvard University.

In contrast, workers who make more than $60,000 a year experienced 10% job growth over the same time period, while those who earn $27,000 to $60,000 saw job growth of more than 3%.

Those numbers demonstrate how the pandemic continues to hit lower-wage workers more than anyone else — even though all sectors of the economy saw job losses when the initial COVID-19 crisis led to lockdowns and business closures.

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Nearly 40% of the lowest-paying jobs disappeared at the height of the pandemic in April 2020, CNBC noted. Those jobs have since bounced back somewhat, though there has been little movement since the end of last year, according to the Opportunity Insights report.

“Over the past 13 months, we’ve really seen no growth in the employment of low-wage workers,” John Friedman, an economics professor at Brown University and a co-director of Opportunity Insights, told CNBC.

Meanwhile, industries that depend on low-wage workers have lagged other sectors of the economy in terms of job growth. The number of leisure and hospitality jobs, such as those in the restaurant and hotel industries, are still down 10% from February 2020.

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That’s partly because many low-wage workers have simply not returned to the job market, for whatever reason. Some are fearful of lingering COVID health risks, economists say, while others can’t afford or can’t find day care. Another theory making the rounds is that stimulus checks and other pandemic-related benefits have taken away the incentive of some workers to seek employment.

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Americans hoping for a fourth stimulus check might be in for a disappointment, however. The recent passage of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill in the U.S. Senate, combined with the most recent jobs report — which, as GOBankingRates reported, showed that the unemployment rate fell to 5.4% in July — doesn’t bode well for those still holding out for a fourth stimulus payment.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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