Additional Authors

Sophia Fox-Dichter, Michal Grinstein-Weiss

Publication Date



Social Policy Institute, Washington University in St. Louis


Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. unemployment peaked at 14.4%. While some workers have returned to payrolls, others have been left behind. This brief examines the nuances of employment changes over the course of the pandemic and the impact of those changes on household financial well-being. Our study finds that the proportion of employees who were laid off peaked in the spring of 2020 and has only recently returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Meanwhile, self-employment rose during the pandemic by 42% between the springs of 2020 and 2021. In households where someone lost a job during the pandemic, rates of financial hardship were three times higher than in households that had steady employment for all members, despite expanded unemployment assistance and the receipt of economic impact payments.

When looking at the differences in types of job loss, we found that furloughed employees were able to return to work full time at higher rates than employees who were laid off. Households with a laid off employee had higher rates of difficulty paying rent (19%) compared to households with a furloughed member (14%). However, these rates decreased for both types of households as the pandemic progressed.

Although employees who were furloughed lost employment temporarily, they still fared better than employees who were laid off, signaling the importance of employees remaining attached to their employers. Programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Employee Retention Credit (ERC) incentivized employers to keep workers attached to them, but these programs could be improved via additional funding and improved distribution.

Document Type

Report or White Paper



Financial Security