Virus Outbreak Atlanta

A server takes an order Thursday, March 19, 2020, outside The Varsity, where the dining room in closed, in Atlanta.

(The Center Square) – Low-wage workers and the hospitality industry likely will face the biggest hits amid the COVID-19 outbreak, according to several reports.

With social distancing orders in place, many hotels, bars, clubs and restaurants have been forced to close their doors and or layoff workers. Daily unemployment claims in Georgia have surpassed weekly numbers, state labor officials have said. 

About 104,000 of the 256,000 hotel-supported jobs in Georgia are projected to be cut because of the health crisis, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association. The Brookings Institution estimates 1.3 million low-wage workers in the state are at risk for job loss.

Hospitality workers in Georgia make an average salary of $12 an hour, according to Glassdoor.com, meaning they also can be counted in the low-wage population that earns less than a living wage.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association said the industry is on “the brink of collapse.”

“We have had massive layoffs, our occupancy is less than 10 percent, we have furloughed our entire restaurant staff and our managers are working 10-12 hours a day,” said Gabriele Webster, a hotelier from Atlanta. “We lose up to $5,000 a day, and it is only getting worse!”

Most hoteliers have reported to the association revenue losses of greater than 50 percent for the first half of the year. Many managers have laid off 80 percent of their staff, while some hotels have reported having occupancy levels close to zero.

The rate of occupancy declines could mean smaller hotels may have to close for good, the association reports.

All in all, low-income workers tend to face the most hardships because they already face economic obstacles, according to Brookings researchers.

There are about 1.3 million workers in Georgia who are paid a median hourly salary of $9.16, a Brookings’ report on the state’s metropolitan statistical areas found. 

Those workers can stand to lose as much as $1,530 each month they are unemployed.

The hotspot for COVID-19 in the state, Albany, may become one of the hardest hit.

The city is under a two-week stay-at-home order. Low-wage workers make up about 45 percent of the workforce in Albany and its surrounding areas and make $8.65 an hour.

The Brunswick and Savannah areas are among the top 15 high-risk areas nationwide for job loss because of COVID-19, according to a separate Brookings report.

Brunswick is home to the five-star Sea Island Resort, which employs more than 17,000 people. In addition, 48 percent of Brunswick’s workforce makes a median wage of $9.47 an hour. Brunswick is the 12th most-at-risk region in Brookings' report, followed by Savannah.

Savannah, a region on the state’s coast, is the transportation and logistics hub of the state. It also thrives off its tourism and entertainment production industries. Low-wage workers make up 49 percent of Savannah’s workforce and the median wage is $9.71.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus. The disease has caused at least 25 deaths in Georgia, with 772 confirmed cases in the state.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.