The California jobs most vulnerable to layoffs and furloughs due to the pandemic were among people making less than $40,000 a year, a state report released Tuesday found, with women in low-income households suffering the worst job losses.
The report by California’s Future of Work Commission focuses on expected trends in California’s labor market over the next decade, laying out in stark detail the economic inequality in the nation’s most populous state.
Gov. Gavin Newsom adopted the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order in mid-March. Over the following months, counties went through multiple business closures and reopenings. Yet the report estimates that just 22% of California workers are consistently able to work remotely, making most workers unable to spend most time at home as officials urged them to do.
“That puts everybody else in this really weird position of either needing to go on unemployment, which is only going to be 60% to 70% of your income, or putting yourself in the line of fire,” said Tia Koonse, legal and policy research manager at the UCLA Labor Center.
About 55% of Latino workers serve in essential jobs — making them most vulnerable to coronavirus exposure — compared to 48% of Black workers and 35% of white workers, the report noted.
Essential businesses like grocery stores and hospitals never closed, but others such as restaurants, gyms and nail salons have been subject to different rules around if and how they can reopen. The closures caused California’s unemployment rate to skyrocket to 16.4% at its height in April.
The report affirms others that warned low-income women were bearing the brunt of job losses during the pandemic. From August to October of 2020, California’s unemployment rate for women in households making less than $30,000 rose to 29% from January through March. Meanwhile, women in households making more than $150,000 annually saw their employment rate rise by 6%, the report found.
Koonse, of the UCLA Labor Center, noted that women dominate many low-wage jobs such as domestic and custodial work. Others many have needed to exit the workforce to take care of children when schools shut down. Most public schools have been closed for in-person learning since last year, though Newsom and legislative leaders have a plan aimed at reopening them by the end of March.
Beyond the pandemic, the 55-page report also urges the state to address California’s inequality and create better conditions for workers by 2030.
The commission, which Newsom formed in 2019, was led by Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, and James Manyika, chairman and director of the McKinsey Global Institute.