Less than half of L.A. County residents still have jobs amid coronavirus crisis

Southern California completes a month of coronavirus lockdown
Dusk settles on downtown Los Angeles as Southern California completes a month of coronavirus lockdown.
(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)
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Because of the colossal impact that the coronavirus outbreak has had on the U.S. economy, less than half of Los Angeles County residents — 45% compared with 61% in mid-March — still hold a job, a decline of 16 percentage points, or an estimated 1.3 million jobs, according to findings from a national survey released Friday.

The survey also suggests that 25.5 million jobs have been potentially lost across the U.S. since mid-March, and that people of color, especially black Americans, are more likely to have lost their jobs since mid-March.

Nationally, 15% of white people said they had lost their jobs, while 18% of Latinos and 21% of black people reported job losses.


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But a significant majority of job losses, 67% nationally, were reported as temporary layoffs. Angelenos reported similar experiences.

“Under normal circumstances losing a job without access to benefits would be bad enough, but in the current situation, chances of finding a new job are likely to be close to nonexistent,” Arie Kapteyn, director of the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research, which administers the tracking survey, said in a statement. “These changes are nothing less than catastrophic for those affected.”

The Understanding Coronavirus in America Study, led by the USC Dornsife Center, has been surveying a panel of nearly 5,500 adults in the United States about their perceptions and attitudes regarding the coronavirus outbreak and how it’s affecting their lives since mid-March.

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The latest survey was conducted from April 1 to April 14 and compares findings from a similar survey from March 10 to March 31, two time periods that reflect immense change in California and the United States as policymakers grappled with how to address the outbreak with limited information and significant consequences.

The researchers have a representative sample of the United States and a representative sample of L.A. County.


“Because our panel members fill out questions in the Understanding Coronavirus in America tracking survey on a daily basis, we are able to pick up any changes in behavior or attitudes that may occur as a result of the pandemic,” Jill Darling, survey director for the Understanding America Study online panel that provides the sample for the tracking survey, said in a statement. “Since the same people respond to each wave of the survey, we can detect real shifts in the impact the pandemic is having on people’s financial and personal lives.”

The researchers found that some of the most pronounced changes over the two time periods came in how Americans are actually heeding the warnings of public health officials and taking personal responsibility in slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Ninety percent of Americans now avoid public spaces, according to the survey results, up 57 percentage points since March. In L.A. County, 94% are doing so, compared with 69% previously.

A high percentage of respondents, 86%, reported avoiding restaurants, up 46 percentage points since March.

These are some of the unusual new scenes across the Southland during the coronavirus outbreak.

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And many more people, both across the United States and in L.A. County, are wearing masks or other types of face coverings. Whereas only 10% of Americans wore face coverings in March, now 48% report doing so. In L.A. County, the figure soared from 18% to 77%.

It’s an increase that makes sense and is likely to be encouraging news for public officials who have continued to stress the importance of a largely self-enforced effort.


Since the first wave of surveys, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a mandatory face covering order April 7 for anyone visiting most essential businesses, and the county’s facial covering order went into effect Wednesday. Many other municipalities and counties across the state and country have followed suit.

Some of the motivation to protect oneself has likely been, in part, from fear. In California, almost 30,000 people have been confirmed to have the coronavirus and nearly 1,000 people have died.

Although people with no more than a high school education believe they’re less likely to contract the virus than those with some college education, they believe they’re more likely to die from it if they are infected, the researchers found.

Nationally, people estimate they have a 25% chance of dying from the virus if they are infected, up from 15% in the earlier survey period in March.

Overall, Americans estimate a 28% chance of contracting COVID-19 within the next three months, up from 21% previously. The percentages were similar for Angelenos.

Unsurprisingly, the proportion of L.A. County residents suffering from psychological distress rose 12 percentage points to 48%.


The survey results also give a glimpse into how people are behaving and feeling about their financial stability amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Whereas the only disruption some Angelenos have faced has primarily been a switch to working from home, some of the survey participants reported much more dire financial situations. Across the country and county, more people are fearing losing their jobs and running out of money.

In L.A. County, people estimated their chances of running out of money within the next three months at 33%, and those who are currently employed estimated their chances of losing their jobs at 22%. Nationally, those measures were 22% and 15%, respectively.

The researchers found that Latinos are least confident about their job security.

But since mid-March, black Americans reported the steepest increase in their chances of running out of money, from a 23% likelihood to a 32% likelihood.