While all sectors of the economy have been ravaged by COVID-19, some are particularly hurt by potentially hazardous working conditions, business shutdowns, and supply line disruptions. Nearly 25 million people across America work in these most vulnerable industries and sectors.
A Broad Cross Section of the Economy
Sheltering in place and a slowdown in commerce lessens the need for oil and gas, a blow to that sector. The service and hospitality industries are experiencing some the worst disruptions, as are closely related sightseeing and tourism. Travel is riskier and less appealing, devastating that sector. The meat packing industry is always a high-risk occupation, and the pandemic has made it much more challenging. But there have been COVID-19 outbreaks in at least 60 food processing facilities that are not part of the meat industry. Economists also highlight the fact that employment services and the entertainment industry are experiencing catastrophic losses.
Healthcare in Demand But Vulnerable
Despite being more vital than ever, the healthcare industry is enduring historic losses. Frontline healthcare workers are risking their lives to care for others, yet many are also at risk for losing their livelihood. Hospitals have lost crucial revenue normally generated by elective surgeries and other procedures, even as they have made emergency investments in resources to fight COVID-19. Dentist offices, for example, were forced to close, and reopening requires complicated, restrictive new protocols to ensure patient health and dental practice safety.
Statistical analysis puts all of that difficulty and vulnerability into painful perspective. Recent data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reflects the depth and breadth of unemployment as the pandemic took hold in the United States. Hotels, spectator sports, and furniture stores saw job loses of around 45% from February to April. Nearly half of all restaurant and bar workers became unemployed, and personal services and dental practices lost close to 55% of their business. Theme parks and the sightseeing and tourism industry saw income-generating activity fall by more than 60%.
Now that the economy is reopening, some sectors and industries are seeing welcome improvement. But some of the most vulnerable business sectors must wait until consumer confidence returns. A recent Harris Poll revealed, for instance, that half of the Americans surveyed do not believe they will be prepared to fly until at least six months after the pandemic has eased. For some businesses that kind of delay is insurmountable, and several leading consumer brands have declared bankruptcy.
The Good News
On the plus side, remote work is positively transforming some sectors and boosting revenues for certain technology providers. Telehealth was making gradual progress before the pandemic, and now is firmly established within the mainstream of its industry. Medical suppliers and labs are increasing production dramatically, to meet unprecedented demand. E-commerce is experiencing a surge, especially at the retail level. That’s particularly true for businesses who have wisely transitioned to a reliably secure and capable online presence with features like zero-fee credit card processing. At the moment, virtually every state is in some active phase of strategic reopening, and the latest unemployment figures were much lower and vastly more encouraging than analysts had predicted. Hopefully that is a sign of strength to come, and will give some of the worst-hit industries a chance to recover.