Understanding Our Weak Spots

By Janine Kaiser and Dominic Mathew

Though it’s hard to know at this juncture the long-term economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the projections for total job loss and unemployment are staggering to say the least. A key measure in these estimates is the number of those in high- and moderate-risk industries.

To help understand the potential scale of the current crisis on communities in Northeast Ohio, the Fund for Our Economic Future analyzed the number of people working in the industries most at risk for layoffs according to where they live. This analysis does not suppose that all workers in high- and moderate-risk industries will lose their jobs, nor that all businesses in these industries will fail. Instead, it gives a broad view of the scale and distribution of the possible worker displacement if the economy takes a while to rebound (which, it almost certainly will).

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It is encouraging to see the aggressive actions taken at the federal, state and local levels to blunt the economic impact of the pandemic. Actions such as raising the amount of unemployment insurance (UI) and expanding access to UI will help soften the blow of the economic standstill, as will steps to keep employees in place through the Paycheck Protection Program and other efforts. Additional measures seem to be announced daily. Nevertheless, it is highly likely that many of those who now find themselves unemployed will not be able to return to their old jobs. Good data about who needs to be reconnected to the economy and where they live will be essential to rebuilding efforts.

Half of the Northeast Ohio workforce is employed in industries that are considered to be either high-risk (e.g., hospitality, arts and entertainment, retail) or moderate-risk (e.g., construction, manufacturing, wholesale). The hospitality industry alone accounts for nearly 200,000 workers, or 9.4% of the workforce, across the region.

Cuyahoga, Summit and Stark counties have the largest number of residents working in high-risk industries (Figure 1). Huron, Tuscarawas, Erie, and Columbiana counties are those with the biggest shares of their workforce in high- and moderate-risk industries (57% or more of the total workforce 16 years and older).

On a more local level, we found that the ZIP codes with the largest number of workers in high-risk industries are located in Medina, Elyria, Lakewood, Mentor, and Kent.

Figure 1 - click to enlarge

Drilling down further on data for Cuyahoga County, Figure 2 highlights the scale of workers by ZIP code in high-risk industries, relative to unemployment claims for March. While claims will continue to increase, the difference underscores the potential scale of disruption and that there may still be a long way to go in terms of layoffs and furloughs. Note, initial claims for unemployment insurance in March are believed to far under count the true number of people seeking unemployment support.

Figure 2 - click to enlarge

If there is still so much we don’t yet know as the unemployment picture continues to evolve, what’s the takeaway from all this?

Certainly, deeper local analysis on who is affected most is needed, but in the near term, we believe this information can help our community be responsive around where to proactively target worker supports. In the longer run, this developing employment picture can help Northeast Ohio workforce leaders—workforce development boards, city and county governments, nonprofits, higher education institutions, and others—think strategically about training opportunities and other services to prepare workers for the post-COVID-19 economy, particularly focusing on basic digital skills and other skill-building opportunities that have value and relevance across industries.

No matter how high the final unemployment tally is on the other side of this crisis, our region’s workforce development system, economic development leaders, chambers of commerce, and industry partners are going to need to adapt to a gravely different talent environment in Northeast Ohio. It’s not too soon to start thinking about how to respond.

Interested in discussing further? Email us.

Janine Kaiser is director of job preparation at the Fund. Dominic Mathew is the Fund’s urban and regional planner for mobility innovations.