June Data Viz: Unemployment Under the Federal CARES Act

Every month, MAPC's Data Services department is releasing maps and data visualizations covering a range of vital and interrelated topics: equity, housing, transportation, climate, arts and culture, and more.

June’s visualization examines how the Federal CARES Act's $600-per-week increase in unemployment benefits impacts unemployed Massachusetts workers. While it temporarily raises the potential benefits for all, its relative effect greatly varies by occupation.

From March 16 through May 28, over 890,000 workers in Massachusetts filed for unemployment benefits. The weekly monetary benefits, typically calculated as half of the worker’s expected weekly wages (with the benefit capped at $823), have temporarily increased by $600 as a result of the Federal CARES Act. With the additional benefit, which will end in Massachusetts on July 25, any worker making less than $1,200 a week ($62,400 a year) before the loss of their job is seeing an increase in household income as a result of unemployment payments. We estimate that 62 percent of all eligible workers would experience an increase in wages as a result of the expanded unemployment benefits.

This visualization exposes how vulnerable many households were before the crisis. The horizontal orange and blue bars represent the range of wages and expected weekly unemployment benefits for the middle 50 percent of workers. The darker vertical lines indicate the median wages and benefits. The further to the left the median wage is from the median benefit, the more additional money an unemployed worker in that occupation is likely to collect in benefits over what they would earn if employed. For example, an unemployed pharmacy sales clerk or grocery store cashier may make more than one who is employed.

The chart also show that those whose wages are most exceeded by potential unemployment benefits are in occupations widely considered essential. Many of those for whom new employment will mean a reduced income will simultaneously face a heightened job-associated risk of exposure to the coronavirus. There are also, of course, many workers, such as those without documents, who when laid off are unable to receive federal assistance at all.

This data shows the multiple burdens borne by lower income groups – even as these groups perform what are now understood to be critical work. Long-term solutions to raise wages, improve financial security, and provide housing security will help both the vulnerable households and the entire region as we seek ways to emerge from COVID-19 stronger than before.

Go to MAPC's DataCommon to explore the interactive graph.