;
Image: Unsplash

The immediate impact of the coronavirus shutdown is striking in its magnitude and the speed at which it has spread. Based on labor statistics coming out of both the U.S. and Australia, which provide takeaways for countries across the globe, the effects of the global health pandemic are being concentrated in a group of specific industries, in particular, making jobs – and thus, individuals – within those industries among those at the greatest risk. 

For one group of about 1.4 million workers in Australia – primarily those in the restaurant, entertainment, recreation, travel (and thus, travel retail), accommodations, and air travel industries, “the risk of loss of work is the inevitable result of government intervention,” according to University of Melbourne Economics professor Jeff Borland, whether that be mandated non-essential business shutdowns or enduring government restrictions on travels, as the country was “approaching a nationwide lockdown” as of late last month.

Another particularly high-risk group, one that comprises about 900,000 workers in Australia, is retail and personal services, “where the effect on jobs is coming from the largescale pattern of consumers cutting spending on everything but essential items,” paired with often-required store closures. Nike, for instance, was among one of the major global brands to announce last month that it would close all of its stores in Australia, with others expected to follow suit.

Within the expansive retail sector, Borland found that the “clothing, footwear, and personal accessories” industry is in a particularly precarious position “due to the fact that households are reducing purchases of durable goods,” with the same risks carrying over the department stores and their workforces.

Borland notes that the laborers that populate these “at-risk” segments are predominantly young (more than half are under 35 years of age), and a slightly higher proportion are female than male. 

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Pew Research Center states that “nearly one-in-four workers – 38.1 million out of 157.5 million – are employed in the industries most likely to feel an immediate impact from the COVID-19 outbreak.” Among the most vulnerable, according to the Washington, DC-based think tank, are those who work in retail trade, and food and beverage services industries, which employ nearly 26 million Americans, and are already being hit hard by layoffs and declining revenues. 

For U.S. workers, much like their Australian counterparts, “young people are set to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 virus-related layoffs,” as are women: 19.4 million workers in these “high risk” industries are women compared with 18.7 million men, according to Pew. The think tank further asserts that “there are slightly fewer white workers in the higher-risk industries relative to their share of the workforce overall, while black and Hispanic workers have a slightly larger presence in these industries.”

Specifically addressing retail, which employs some 16.2 million workers, Pew states that “employment outcomes are more uncertain” than in other industries. “While brick-and-mortar operations are at higher risk because some are closed by government mandate and shoppers are otherwise encouraged to stay home,” it notes that “e-commerce shopping providers may stand to benefit.” 

As for the job market more generally, Heidi Shierholz, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, told Yahoo Finance that in the past, “low middle income workers [have been] hit harder by recessions.” This will not only remain the case for the COVID-19-spurred downturn, she says that “this is going to be more true than ever before because many of the workers who are profoundly affected by the social distancing measures are low wage workers, such as brick-and-mortar retail staff.”