Unemployment in Socially Disadvantaged Communities in Tennessee, US, During the COVID-19


Urban studies related to previous pandemics and impacts on cities focused on vulnerable categories including poor and marginalized groups. We continue this tradition and analyze unemployment outcomes in a context of a multi-dimensional social disadvantage that is unfolding during the ongoing public health crisis. For this, we first propose an approach to identify communities by social disadvantage status captured by several key metrics. Second, we apply this methodology in the study of the effect of social disadvantage on unemployment during the COVID-19 and measure the COVID-19-related economic impact using the most recent data on unemployment. The study focuses upon vulnerable communities in in the southeastern US (Tennessee) with a concentration of high social vulnerability and rural communities. While all communities initially experienced the impact that was both sudden and severe, communities that had lower social disadvantage pre-COVID were much more likely to start resuming economic activities earlier than communities that were already vulnerable pre-COVID due to high social disadvantage with further implications upon community well-being. The impact of social disadvantage grew stronger post-COVID compared with the pre-pandemic period. In addition, we investigate worker characteristics associated with adverse labor market outcomes during the later stage of the current economic recession. We show that some socio-demographic groups have a systematically higher likelihood of being unemployed. Compared with the earlier stages, racial membership, poverty and loss of employment go hand in hand, while ethnic membership (Hispanics) and younger male workers are not associated with higher unemployment. Overall, the study contributes to a growing contemporaneous research on the consequences of the COVID-19 recession. Motivated by the lack of the research on the spatial aspect of the COVID-19-caused economic recession and its economic impacts upon the vulnerable communities during the later stages, we further contribute to the research gap.

Publication Title

Frontiers in Sustainable Cities