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Central NY unemployment could surpass 12%, says economic expert

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Protesters in downtown Syracuse earlier this month, demanding the central New York region reopen for business.

Economists are taking a closer look at unemployment numbers that are the worst since the Great Depression.

Russell Weaver is an economic geographer at the Cornell School of Industrial Relations. That means he dives into the unemployment numbers looking for trends in certain areas or populations. And so far, the numbers he's scrutinizing don't bode well for the poor and marginalized members of our society.

“A lot of the headlines in terms of this pandemic being a great equalizer, isn't necessarily so, in the way it's playing out," Weaver said.  

He said groups getting the biggest economic hit are disproportionately persons of color and low-income renters. And things could get worse. Weaver said Friday's announced unemployment rate of 14.7% only takes into account jobs lost through mid-April. One thing this economic disaster has done though, Weaver said, is bring up policy proposals that haven't been seriously discussed in high levels, like universal basic income or decoupling employment and health care.

"The focus on some of the sharp inequalities in our society are now front and center under the microscope,” Weaver said. “The policy window is open, so it's time to push through and think about how we can take measure in the present, so we can be resilient from some of these kinds of events."

According to the latest national jobless figures, there are more than 20 million people who have lost jobs in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. New York State's numbers won't be out for another few weeks, but Weaver said looking at unemployment statistics so far, he's guessing Central New York's unemployment rate will come in about 12.5%. That could align with other upstate regions, except for Buffalo, which should have a higher rate. And he expects New York City unemployment numbers to come in at the 13.5-14% range.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.