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The pandemic has wiped out nearly all job gains since recession — and it’s not done yet

U.S. job losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic are simply staggering. So far, they are roughly equivalent to the number of jobs created since the last painful recession. Elise Gould, senior economist with the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss which economic sectors were hit first, how losses have cascaded from there and why women might be affected more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Even as the president and the Congress negotiate over further relief and aid, the job losses are staggering. So far, they are roughly equivalent to the number of jobs created since the last painful recession.

    Elise Gould is a senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute. It's a nonprofit think-tank in Washington, D.C.

    Elise Gould, thank you very much for joining us.

    As we said, these numbers are almost impossible to comprehend, 20-some-odd million Americans out of work. I mean, how do you put this in some context? How do you explain it? What's going on?

  • Elise Gould:

    It's a great question.

    It's — they're devastating numbers, just like those stories were devastating that you aired, all those people in so much pain. There are millions of them. As you said, there's more than 20 million.

    Think about the economy. There's about 150 million people working in the economy. That represents one in eight — more than one in eight. If you look around you, more than one in eight workers have now filed for employment insurance. Those are devastating losses.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you described to us how this is happening in waves, how there was a first wave of people, but now we are seeing this cascade into virtually all sectors of the economy.

  • Elise Gould:

    That's right.

    At first, we saw it mostly in leisure and hospitality, when we saw the tourist industry begin to shut down. Now you're seeing it in restaurants, and you're seeing it in retail. It's — it's really cascading.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you have also talked to us about how it's not just people worrying about their economic security. It's health security on the line as well.

  • Elise Gould:

    Right.

    When you think about what's been happening in this pandemic, there are two chains of waves that this is affecting people. One is, there are the front-line workers, right? Those essential workers, whether they be health care workers or grocery store workers or workers in transportation, all those essential workers every day are putting their own health on the line, the health of themselves, of their family members.

    They may live with people who are at risk, in particular, at risk of their health. And so we have to think about those workers.

    And then we think about the other group of workers, those people that are facing devastating economic insecurity, so those people who have lost their job, who have been furloughed, who have their hours cut, who have no hope of getting employment any time soon.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Elise Gould, you also told us that there's a — maybe an undercount involved, that we're not seeing the true numbers, even when we look at these devastating numbers that are coming out.

  • Elise Gould:

    That's right.

    So, some of what we passed in the last legislation, the CARES Act, allowed additional people to be able to file for unemployment insurance. That's just coming up online now. So those self-employed workers, those gig workers who can now apply, workers who had to quit their jobs to take care of their kids when their kids' school closed, we're going to now start seeing all of those numbers of people applying for unemployment insurance in the coming weeks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Elise Gould, the Economic Policy Institute has taken a deeper look at how women may be more affected by these job losses than men. What did you find?

  • Elise Gould:

    Well, what we're seeing is that the sectors that are more likely to be affected, initially, in particular, in leisure and hospitality, those — that sector has more women in it.

    And so we're seeing more women affected initially. We're also seeing, among those sectors, women are disproportionately affected, so even more than their shares in that sector would suggest.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And is that something you expect to continue as these — again, the waves of people who are affected begin to show up and seeking unemployment benefits?

  • Elise Gould:

    Unfortunately, I do. I think that it's really important for us to track as many demographic characteristics as we can with the data moving forward to see who is really being hurt by this recession.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, just quickly, in terms of benefits, in the past, whether it's women or men, I mean, for many of these people, they have never had to ask for unemployment benefits in their lives.

  • Elise Gould:

    That's right.

    We are seeing unprecedented numbers of people filing for unemployment insurance. These are people we know, people in the economy today, have lived paycheck to paycheck. They can't go without that paycheck that they need to be able to put a roof over their head, to be able to put food on the table.

    It is absolutely necessary that that money come through, and that money continue until we get on the other side of this pandemic and can be used as stimulus to make sure the economy gets back on track.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And as we heard so vividly from those Americans whose voices were shared with us just a few minutes ago.

    Elise Gould, the Economic Policy Institute, thank you.

  • Elise Gould:

    Thank you.

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