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US Employment Inequality in the Great Recession and the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Unlike the Great Recession, the pandemic has hit women workers harder than men, and disproportionately hurt the job prospects of lower education workers

This article compares inequality in US employment across social groups in the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic. We develop an inequality measure that captures both how much employment declines during a recession and the persistence of those declines. The results show a significant shift of job loss from men in the Great Recession to women in the COVID-19 lockdown. White workers fare better than other racial/ethnic groups in both recessions. Black and Hispanic women are hit especially hard in the COVID-19 pandemic. With our job loss measure, less-educated workers had modestly worse outcomes in the Great Recession. However, during COVID-19, less-educated workers suffer much more severe employment consequences than more educated groups. We discuss the long-term effects of employment inequality and how these findings are relevant to debates about policy responses.

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