The poorest Americans are being hit the hardest by coronavirus-induced job losses, Fed survey shows

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Assistant store manager rings up groceries from behind a plexiglass barrier in Los Angeles, California. Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
  • Nearly 40% of people working in February with a household income below $US40,000 reported that they’d lost a job in March, the survey released Thursday showed.
  • Another 6% had hours reduced or took unpaid leave during the month. In total, 19% of all adults reported losing a job, having hours reduced, or taking unpaid leave in March.
  • This drop in work was also reflected in incomes, which fell 23% during the month.
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The millions of Americans who have lost their jobs in recent weeks are disproportionately lower-income workers, according to a new survey from the Federal Reserve.

Nearly 40% of people working in February with a household income below $US40,000 reported that they’d lost a job in March, the survey released Thursday showed. While most of the survey focused on economic well-being at the end of 2019, supplemental questions were added in early April as the coronavirus pandemic hit the US.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell had pointed out this statistic a day earlier in a presentation at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“This reversal of economic fortune has caused a level of pain that is hard to capture in words, as lives are upended amid great uncertainty about the future,” he said.

The Fed survey comes the same day that the Labour Department reported that 2.98 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance last week, bringing the eight-week total to 36.5 million claims as the coronavirus pandemic continues to slam the labour market.

Last week’s April jobs report showed that 20.5 million jobs were erased in the month, and that the unemployment rate spiked to 14.7%, the highest since the Great Depression. While almost no sector was immune to job losses, they were most concentrated in leisure and hospitality.


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The Fed’s report showed that there is economic pain beyond job losses – another 6% of workers had their hours reduced or took unpaid leave in March.

“Taken together, 19% of all adults reported either losing a job or experiencing a reduction in work hours in March,” the report said. This was reflected in income declines in March – 23% of adults said they made less during the month, the report showed.

The report also showed that employment disruptions greatly impact households’ ability to pay their bills. Only 64% of adults who reported a job loss or reduction of hours in April said they expected to be able to pay their bills in full, compared to 85% of those without an employment disruption.