Employment

Since March 2020, many have experienced employment disruptions such as a layoff, reduction of hours, or unpaid leave (figure 1). Twenty percent of people who were working at the time of the annual SHED survey in October 2019 said they were laid off between March and when they took the supplemental survey in late July.3 Additionally, 10 percent of October 2019 workers had their hours reduced or took unpaid leave, but were not laid off.

Figure 1. Employment events since March 2020 among those working before the pandemic
Figure 1. Employment events since March 2020 among those working before the pandemic
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Note: Among those working in October 2019.

Layoffs have not affected all workers equally. Hispanic and Black adults were more likely to report a layoff between March and July (table 1). In addition, a larger share of working women than men were laid off, which is a departure from previous recessions.

Table 1. Proportion of adults working in October 2019 who were laid off since March 2020 (by demographic characteristics)

Percent

Characteristic Laid off or told
not to work
Family income
Less than $40,000 28
$40,000–$100,000 19
Greater than $100,000 13
Education
High school degree or less 23
Some college/technical or associate degree 25
Bachelor's degree or more 13
Race/ethnicity
White 18
Black 22
Hispanic 23
Gender
Male 18
Female 22

Note: Among those working in October 2019. Income and education categories are from the October 2019 survey responses.

At the same time that many reported employment disruptions, others reported working more. Twen-ty percent of people who were working in October reported working increased hours or overtime between March and July. Additionally, 5 percent of all adults started a job between March and July.

Some workers who were laid off had also returned to work or were working at another job in July. Thirty percent of workers who were laid off said in July that they had returned to their former job, up from 5 percent in April (figure 2). An additional 10 percent said that they were employed and did not expect to return to the old job.4

Still, a larger share of laid-off workers expected the layoff to be permanent than was the case in April. In July, 22 percent of adults who had been laid off said that they were not employed and that they did not expect to return to their old job. This is up from 7 percent of laid-off workers who reported in April that they were not employed and did not expect to return to their old job.

Figure 2. Expectations about returning to work and current employment for laid-off workers (by month)
Figure 2. Expectations about returning to work and current employment for laid-off workers (by month)
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Note: Among adults reporting a layoff since March 2020. Percents may not sum to 100 due to rounding and question non-response. Key identifies bars in order from left to right.

Another important feature of the employment situation since March has been larger disruptions among workers in families with low incomes. The rate of layoffs was substantially higher among workers from low-income families. Between March and July, 28 percent of October workers in families making less than $40,000 per year at the time were laid off.5 In contrast, layoffs affected 13 percent of October workers in families making more than $100,000 per year over the same period.

Laid-off workers in low-income families were also less likely to say that they had returned to work at their original job. One-fourth of workers in low-income families who experienced a layoff said they had returned to work for the same employer (figure 3). In contrast, 32 percent of middle-income and 39 percent of high-income workers who were laid off had returned to their same job.

Figure 3. Expectations about returning to work and current employment for laid-off workers (by family income)
Figure 3. Expectations about returning to work and current employment for laid off workers (by family income)
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Note: Among adults reporting a layoff since March 2020. Income categories are from the October 2019 survey responses. Percents may not sum to 100 due to rounding and question non-response. Key identifies bars in order from left to right.

Work Location and Concerns about COVID-19 at Work

The pandemic also has continued to affect where people physically do their work. Although the frequency of remote work has declined since April, it remains elevated. Thirty-one percent of workers did all of their work from home in the week before the survey, compared to 41 percent who did so in early April (figure 4).

Workers with more education, however, were more likely to work from home. In July, 12 percent of workers with a high school degree or less worked entirely from home, compared to half of workers with a bachelor's degree. Each number was down from the proportion that said they worked entirely from home in April.

Figure 4. Work entirely from home in April 2020 and July 2020 (by education)
Figure 4. Work entirely from home in April 2020 and July 2020 (by education)
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Note: Among employed and self-employed adults. Key identifies bars in order from top to bottom.

Differences by education in the proportion of adults who worked from home translate into different levels of exposure to others. Indeed, 85 percent of workers who were not entirely telecommuting said that they were within six feet of someone for more than five minutes on the most recent day that they went to work. Thirty-five percent had close contact with at least 10 people. Conditional on going into work, workers with different levels of education reported that they were exposed to similar numbers of people each day.

Overall, most adults felt their employer was taking adequate precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Roughly three-fourths of workers said that their employer was taking about the right amount of precautions for their safety. This compares to 18 percent of workers who felt that their employer was not taking enough precautions and 7 percent who felt their employer took too many precautions.

Since half of workers with bachelor's degrees were working from home, these workers likely had less potential exposure to the virus at their jobs. And the differences in exposure by education were reflected in workers' evaluations of the precautions that their employers took. Sixteen percent of workers with a bachelor's degree said that their employer had not taken enough precautions against the coronavirus, while 21 percent of workers with a high school degree or less responded the same way.

Black and Hispanic workers also were disproportionately likely to say that their employers were not taking enough precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Twenty-seven percent of Black workers said that their employer was not taking enough precautions, while 23 percent of Hispanic workers and 16 percent of White workers responded similarly (figure 5).

Figure 5. Think employer is not taking enough precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19
Figure 5. Think employer is not taking enough precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19
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Note: Among employed, self-employed, and those who voluntarily quit or were laid off since March 2020.

Different views of employer's precautions by race and ethnicity reflected different rates of working from home, among other factors. Twenty-two percent of Hispanic workers and 28 percent of Black workers worked entirely from home over the week before the survey, compared to 33 percent of White workers. Across all races and ethnicities, adults who did none of their work from home were twice as likely as those working completely from home to say their employer was not taking enough precautions (19 percent versus 9 percent).

Work and Family

Potential school closures in the fall, accompanied by increased family and childcare responsibilities, could affect some parents' ability to maintain formal employment. While most working parents did not expect potential school closures in the fall to affect their work, 22 percent expected to work less or stop working altogether if their local schools do not have in-person classes (figure 6).6 These potential labor market effects were the largest for working parents living in households with primary-school-aged children, among whom nearly 3 in 10 expected to work less or stop working altogether. Additionally, working mothers, at 27 percent, were more likely than working fathers to report that they expected to work less or stop working altogether.

Figure 6. Expect to reduce hours worked if schools do not have in-person classes in the fall (by parental status and gender)
Figure 6. Expect to reduce hours worked if schools do not have in-person classes in the fall (by parental status and gender)
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Note: Among those employed or self-employed but not working in education or childcare. Key identifies bars in order from left to right.

Footnotes

 3. Employment status in October is used here since all respondents completed the October 2019 survey and reported their employment status at that time. Eighty-six percent of people who were laid off between March and July 2020 said that they were working in October 2019. The remaining 14 percent were most likely laid off from a job that they started between October and July. This report refers to someone who answers that they lost a job, were laid off, or were told not to work any hours as someone who was laid off. Return to text

 4. Workers who said they were employed could have found a new job since the layoff, or they could have lost one of multiple jobs without getting another. Return to text

 5. This statistic is not directly comparable to related findings in the Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2019, Featuring Supplemental Data from April 2020. The statistic in this report uses information on family (rather than household) income and employment in the October 2019 survey that was not available for the April survey. The results could also differ because of sampling error and recall bias. For example, people who quickly returned to work may report a layoff in April but not July. The most comparable statistic to that reported in April would be that one-third of people in households making under $40,000 per year who were working in February report that they were laid off since March. Return to text

 6. To isolate the effects of school closings on people's responsibilities at home, we exclude people who work in education or childcare. Parental status is based on whether the respondent lived with their own children under age 18 in October 2019. Return to text

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Last Update: September 23, 2020