Massive coronavirus layoffs: 42% of Dayton area workers at risk

ajc.com

Staggering and once-unthinkable numbers of people in Ohio, including the Dayton region, suddenly have been laid off because of the COVID-19 crisis.

But some economists predict the bloodbath in the labor market is far from over and many workers remain at risk of job cuts.

Far more Ohioans applied for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks than in all of 2019, and jobless claims in the Dayton metro area shot up 3,729% in the week ending March 21, which predates the state issuing a stay-at-home order that resulted in countless business closures.

CORONAVIRUS: Complete coverage from the Dayton Daily News

The U.S. jobs report on Friday showed 701,000 job losses in March, and economists say that’s a small fraction of what kind of painful payroll declines to expect in April’s report.

Some economists say U.S. unemployment, currently at 4.4%, possibly could exceed 30% in the second quarter of this year, which is higher than during the Great Depression.

Nearly 44% of workers in the Dayton region — and nearly 47% of Ohio workers — hold jobs that some economists consider to be at higher risk of layoffs related to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an analysis released Friday by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

The Economic Policy Institute projects that Ohio could lose more than 714,750 private-sector jobs by July, potentially pushing the state's private-sector unemployment rate to around 15%.

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This is a difficult and stressful time for many people, but there are resources that can help, said Marvene Mitchell-Cook, director of workforce development at Montgomery County.

Mitchell-Cook said her department, like other groups in the region and state, is working hard to connect people who need jobs with the companies that are hiring.

"I encourage anyone in need of work to contact our Workforce Development Department," she said. "Our recruiters are still working hard with local businesses and job seekers."

Record unemployment claims

On Thursday, the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services reported that a record-smashing 272,117 people filed for unemployment in the week that ended March 28, bringing the two-week total to 468,414 claims.

Ohio’s never seen anything like this. That’s 104,000 more claims than all of last year.

Initial jobless claim data for counties lag behind statewide numbers, but 13,592 people in the Dayton metro area applied for unemployment benefits in the week ending March 21, according to the state.

The metro area — consisting of Montgomery, Miami and Greene counties — had only 355 claims the week before.

Local jobless claims could surge in the week ending March 28, because a statewide stay-at-home order was issued March 22 that directed many “nonessential” businesses to close.

Any hope that Ohio’s economic pain caused by the outbreak would be short-lived has faded, because state officials predict COVID-19 cases won’t peak possibly until mid-April or mid-May.

Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration on Thursday extended the stay-at-home order through May 1.

“The coronavirus is not just a health virus — it is an economic virus on us all,” Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said at a Friday press conference.

MORE: Coronavirus: Area workers question essential vs nonessential

Many parts of the economy are being impacted by coronavirus-related layoffs, but payroll cuts are heavily concentrated in certain sectors.

About 401,000 of U.S. jobs lost in March (57% of the total) were in food services and drinking places, according to federal estimates.

Until now, the U.S. economy had not shed jobs in any month in a decade, and March’s tally of losses was the highest since during the depths of the Great Recession.

Restaurants and food service establishments across the region have closed temporarily, like Tank's Bar and GrillEl Meson, some Starbucks locations, Bibibop Asian Grill, Dragon China and many others.

Some local businesses remain open for carryout but have had to cut staff and reduce operations.

Many people are out of work, but restaurants that are staying open are doing a very good job of making sure customers and staff are safe and they are offering creative deals and take-home meals, said Amy Zahora, executive director of the Miami Valley Restaurant.

“Now is the time to go out and support them,” she said. “They need it right now.”

Local restaurants are important community supporters, especially when it comes to fundraisers and donations, and they could use people’s business, either through to-go orders or gift cards, Zahora said.

“High risk” jobs

Occupations at higher risk of job losses related to COVID-19 include food preparation and serving; sales and related work; production work; and installation, maintenance and repair, according to Charles Gascon, a regional economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Last year, those four occupations alone employed nearly 113,800 workers in the Greene, Miami and Montgomery counties, or 30% of the labor force, according to new U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey data for May 2019.

And those aren’t the only high-risk jobs.

Gascon, who analyzed 2018 survey data, said he classified occupations as high vs. low risk of unemployment based on whether they are essential to public health or safety; if the work can be done off-site (at home); and if the positions are likely to be salaried.

Gascon estimated that 43.9% of Dayton metro area workers were at higher risk of COVID-related unemployment.

Another hard-hit occupation is personal care and service, which includes hairdressers, ushers, ticket takers and amusement and recreation workers.

Theaters, entertainment centers, salons and many other personal care businesses that involve face-to-face interactions or where large crowds of customers can congregate have have been shut down.

More than 5,800 people in the Dayton metro area were employed in personal care and service jobs last year.

Some of the highest risk occupations also pay the lowest wages, which means workers are more likely to live paycheck-to-paycheck and could face serious economic hardship if laid off.

Food service, the lowest-paying occupation of 21 different categories, has a median hourly wage of $10.46 in the Dayton metro area, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics’ estimates.

In the Dayton region, the median wage is $11.04 per hour for personal care and service jobs and $12.35 for sales and related occupations. The median wage for all occupations is about $19 per hour.

Though large numbers of Ohioans are out of work, many employers in critical fields and industries, like food supply and health care, are hiring and have significant workforce needs, said Lt. Gov. Husted.

Husted announced on Thursday that employers could post jobs and Ohioans could find employment opportunities at coronavirus.ohio.gov/jobsearch.

About 11,000 jobs were posted on Thursday, but 24 hours later, that increased to 21,000 jobs, Husted said.

Amazon has 4,600 open jobs, Kroger has 1,800 and CVS Health has 1,200, according to the site.