The COVID-19 recession has already led to much larger declines in employment than occurred throughout the Great Recession, and jobs have been lost much more quickly. As with past recessions, less-educated workers are bearing the brunt of these declines.
Nationwide, almost 20 million workers lost jobs between February and April this year (among adults age 25 and over). Employment declined by about 7 million over a much longer period during the Great Recession. So far, less-educated workers—those without bachelor’s or graduate degrees—have accounted for 80% of all employment declines in the pandemic recession.
Workers with degrees also tend to do better during economic recoveries. After the Great Recession, employment growth among educated workers was robust, but employment among less-educated workers never fully recovered. Employment among college graduates is much higher today (by about 11 million) than at the economic peak prior to the Great Recession. In contrast, employment among less-educated workers is now dramatically lower (by 20 million) than it was at the pre-recession peak.
California’s monthly employment data by educational attainment is less precise than national data, but early indicators show similar patterns. Less-educated Californians have exceptionally high unemployment rates: about one in five is now unemployed. While unemployment rates for California’s college graduates have also risen dramatically, they are far lower.
We can’t predict how deep and long this recession will turn out to be, but it will be important to continue to measure its impact across groups of workers so that policymakers can address the economic consequences of job losses.