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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Jobless During A Global Pandemic: The Disparate Impact of COVID-19 on Workers of Color in the World’s Fifth Largest Economy


This report examines the California labor force—both salary and wage earners—to identify workerswho are jobless as a result of COVID-19, and the direction and magnitude of racial/ethnic disparities.It examines the totality of the pandemic’s effect through mid-April 2020. Not all jobless individualsare properly considered in recent data on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on California’slabor force. An important distinction among COVID-19 jobless individuals is whether they receiveunemployment benefits. Since both the state and federal governments have addressed the pandemic’seconomic devastation to workers by expanding the Unemployment Insurance (“UI”) program, wecalculate the number of jobless Californians who are eligible for UI and those who are unable toreceive benefits. As officials have sought to “flatten the curve” and prevent the number of new casesfrom overwhelming the healthcare system by limiting person-to-person interactions, restricting groupgatherings, encouraging “physical distancing,” and ordering people to “shelter-in-place,”6 policymakershave extended the UI benefit period and increased benefits to reduce risk of infection.7 Yet the relianceon UI benefits, a system that is less equipped to protect low-wage workers in the service sector, excludesundocumented workers and other vulnerable workers, including those new to the labor force andthose with low wages. As a result, millions of Californians are left further exposed to hardship during thepandemic.

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