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Labor force participation continues to decline in the District

July 14, 2020
  • Sunaina Bakshi Kathpalia

According to preliminary data released by the D.C. Department Employment Services, the District’s labor force declined by 15,000 between April and May, in addition to a 18,000 decline between March and April, and now stands at 387,500. Between April and May, 2,300 residents lost their jobs, and employment fell to 353,200. The number of unemployed fell as well, by 12,700, bringing resident unemployment to 34,300.

Employment and unemployment decreased throughout the District

Between April and May, there was a decline in both employment and unemployment across all wards. However, there was a faster decline in the number of unemployed, and all wards saw the unemployment rate improve from April. This is because people are exiting the labor force faster, as not all those who lose their jobs are actively seeking employment. Ward 8 continues to have the highest unemployment rate but saw the largest drop of 3.9 points in the unemployment rate as it had the greatest relative decrease in its labor force. Wards 2 and 3 saw the smallest relative declines in the unemployment rate and labor force.


Minorities and young workers continue to experience the greatest losses

U.S. Department of Labor data shows that between April and May, the District added 14,487 unemployment insurance recipients – a 25.1 percent increase – bringing the total number of recipients to 72,168. According to the data, which tracks characteristics of those receiving unemployment insurance benefits, more women continue to receive unemployment benefits than men, but both groups saw a 25.1 percent growth in the number of claimants between April and May.


Between March and April, Hispanic and Latino workers experienced the fastest growth in the number of unemployment benefits recipients, but the change between April and May settled to the same level as overall recipients. The number of Black or African American unemployment claimants had the greatest relative increase of 31.6 percent, while the numbers of white recipients increased by 16.2 percent, reversing the trend observed between March and April.

Younger workers continue to be the hardest hit by pandemic induced unemployment. Between April and May, workers under the age of 22 saw a 42.2 percent growth in the number of unemployment insurance recipients, and now constitute 4 percent of the total number of recipients. Workers aged 65 and over saw the second largest relative increase in the numbers of claimants (35.7 percent) between April and May, in contrast to the previous month which saw older workers lose jobs at a rate lower than that of the entire city.

Among occupations, protective service workers, such as security guards, saw the highest relative increase in the number unemployment claims, at a 45.2 percent increase. Healthcare support workers, such as nursing assistants and home health aides, and education workers were also greatly impacted, with a growth of approximately 36 percent in unemployment insurance recipients.

About the data

Employment and unemployment data, and ward-level employment data is released by the D.C. Department of Employment Services. Data on characteristics of unemployment insurance recipients are from the Department of Labor (ETA 203). Since this data tracks characteristics of the District’s entire workforce covered by unemployment insurance, it includes those commuting from outside the District. We have excluded from this data any groups that consisted of less than 20 workers.


Feature photo by Ted Eytan (Source)


Sunaina Bakshi Kathpalia

Research Associate
D.C. Policy Center

Sunaina B. Kathpalia served on the D.C. Policy Center staff in the role of Research Associate from 2019 until May 2022. In this role, she provided data analysis and research support across a variety of projects.

Prior to joining the Policy Center in 2019, Sunaina worked for the Urban Institute as a data and research intern, where she focused on launching an open data platform. She has also worked as data analyst intern at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.

Sunaina is originally from New Delhi, India, and earned her bachelor’s degree in Mathematics at the University of Chicago.