The National Bureau of Economic Research has officially declared what millions of displaced workers and businesses have been feeling since the start of the pandemic: America is in a recession and has been since February. Even though the economy added 2.5 million jobs in May – a trend that is likely to continue as states reopen and more workers return to their jobs – the road to a full, inclusive economic recovery remains long and steep. But we can get there, and the key to our success lies in strong workforce data.
Workforce data must be at the center of the policy response to the pandemic to help target resources to – and elevate the voices of – workers and businesses who have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. Workforce data will also help advocates and policymakers evaluate whether the stimulus packages actually lead to an inclusive economic recovery.
The Unemployment Insurance (UI) claims data from April shows that women, people of color, and younger workers are among those who have been disproportionately impacted by the current economic downturn. According to the Unemployment Claims Monitor – a tool by The Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, which tracks weekly initial and continuing claims with disaggregated monthly counts by gender, race, ethnicity, age, and industry:
The data also shows that monthly unemployment rates jumped for all genders and racial groups in April, but their pre-pandemic starting points were very different.
Reskilling opportunities will be essential for displaced workers and the industries in which they were previously employed, as well as those who were unemployed prior to the pandemic. Several states have already launched new websites to provide a resource for their residents in connecting to online training options. Arizona’s Return Stronger Upskilling websites offers a one-stop resource for online career counseling or connecting workers to training, be it GED prep or industry-recognized certifications. Other sites, like Skill Up CT (Connecticut) and Get Hired IL (Illinois) are also offering their residents expanded access to re-employment support.
Access to programs to help train workers for the occupations that are and will be in demand as states reopen will also be important. Unfortunately, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions, or HEROES Act, fell far short of the investments in businesses and workers that the current crisis calls for, especially for adult education. The HEROES Act makes no additional investments in the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA), also known as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title II program. Access to upskilling opportunities are critical for the one in five adults in the labor force with less than a high school diploma who were unemployed in May.
Beyond using it to help shape polices that lead to equitable re-employment support, data will be integral to evaluating the success or deficiencies of stimulus strategies on meeting the needs of all workers and businesses impacted by the pandemic. Special attention should be given to the industries hardest hit by layoffs and closures, which desperately need community-wide support to get back to stable employment. Policymakers should also focus on communities of color and Indigenous populations who have faced structural barriers to education and workforce training and have been disproportionally impacted by the crisis.
This measurement could include analysis around what industries and displaced workers are returning to work faster, access to job training and credential attainment, and ensuring disaggregated workforce data is used to determine if all workers could equitably connect to new jobs in the post-pandemic economy.
States need more federal funding for workforce training in order to meet the needs of local workers and businesses in a post-Covid labor market. There are several steps that workforce and education advocates can take to ensure that federal policymakers understand the need for equitable and inclusive reskilling strategies.