In the first part of this series on the economic impacts of COVID-19 in Brevard County, Florida, I examined the pandemic’s effects on our local market economy by analyzing community survey data collected during the week of July 13th.
That piece revealed nearly two-thirds of working households surveyed reported losing a third of their market income due to COVID-19. And while all economic classes experienced impacts, low income earners in service industries reported the deepest losses—with 8 out of 10 affected losing half of what they made prior to the pandemic.
This second part picks up from there to examine the effect these market losses are having on household behavior.
Let’s first look at workers’ efforts to makeup market losses through temporary government unemployment assistance.
Overall, about half (52%) of households experiencing losses applied for unemployment.
The likelihood of applying was strongly correlated with being laid off: 80% of laid off workers applied, while only 30% with reduced hours or pay applied. Low income workers were 17% more likely to apply, because they were more likely to be laid off, and cuts in their hours pushed them under the $275 per week Florida eligibility threshold more often.
Less than 10% of workers applied because they feared getting sick, got sick, or needed to care for a child or elderly person. Market dynamics — namely, sharply reduced consumer spending in service industries requiring physical interaction that led to layoffs, reduced hours, and business closings — had much more of an effect.
The unemployment approval rate was 68%, and it took 44 days to be approved on average. While low income workers had the highest apply rate (69%), they had the lowest approval rate (55%).
Returning to Work
Next, let’s explore workers’ efforts to makeup losses by getting back to work.
Recall from part one, market incomes across economic classes have not yet recovered, and workers are not confident they will see recovery soon. Despite those concerns, most households are working.
Two-thirds of households reported working during the first full week of July, though only about half reported working full-time.
Lower income households are still experiencing disproportionate impacts, with about three-quarters under or unemployed.
Compare this to pre-pandemic levels, when nearly everybody in this sample of affected households was working full-time.
Households are more likely to be working again if they kept their jobs—9 out of 10 workers returned to the jobs they had prior to COVID-19, where only 5 out of 10 who were laid off are back to work in July.
Lower income households who were laid off, or whose businesses closed temporarily, are the least likely to be working.
When examining the effects of unemployment benefits on returning to work, low income households who were laid off and receiving benefits were somewhat (18%) less likely to have returned to work than those who were not (36% vs 54%). However, low income earners were most likely to have experienced a permanent job loss, and unemployment benefits had no less effect on middle or upper income households returning to work.
In summary, ongoing losses of earnings appear to be driven by reduced market demand for services that carry health risks due to COVID-19. Government unemployment benefits have helped soften the steepest losses, but they have not assisted all workers in becoming whole. Many workers in Brevard County, Florida who kept their jobs while experiencing reduced hours or pay did not receive benefits. And many workers have returned to work, but they have not seen recovery, with lower income households still largely underemployed.
Stay tuned for part 3 for a detailed look at the effect on individual household stability.