- It has been over a year since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic.
- Unemployment is still high, but a blowout March jobs report shows some positive signs of a recovery.
- These 12 charts take a look at the US employment situation over a year later.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Paula Jan Beasley didn’t think she would still be searching for a job about a year after she was laid off last March.
She had just started a new job as an assistant manager at a restaurant in Missouri after many years of experience in contract human-resources positions, but the pandemic changed all that. Businesses, like the one Beasley was working at, had to decide what to do with their employees amid an outbreak of a novel virus.
She told Insider in an interview in February that she sat with the restaurant owner and they agreed on her layoff, both uncertain of how long the pandemic would last.
“I mean they had to have cooks for takeaway and stuff like that. They had to have some people to get the job done, and I was kind of in a learning phase,” Beasley said. “So it just made sense when the virus hit.”
It’s been over a year since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020. In the weeks after, the US started seeing a number of positive cases, states issuing lockdown orders, and businesses temporarily closing.
Demand for some industries, like airlines and hotels, started to decline as people began to stay at home. As some Americans worked from the comfort of their kitchens and bedrooms, others risked their health as essential workers and millions were laid off or furloughed.
However, the latest employment situation from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed some good news over a year after the official start of the pandemic. There were 916,000 nonfarm payroll jobs added in March, and the hard-hit sector of leisure and hospitality made up a third of those job gains.
With over a year’s worth of data now available, Insider created 12 charts that look at how US employment compares with that in February 2020.
Slides have been updated to reflect the latest figures for March 2021 released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In the early stages of the pandemic, the US economy lost about 22 million jobs in March and April 2020. While most months since those huge losses showed the beginning of a recovery, gains seemed to have slowed in the fall and winter. December even had the first reported job losses since April.
But the first three months in 2021 showed more promising increases. March saw the largest monthly gain so far this year at 916,000 nonfarm payroll jobs added. Insider’s Andy Kiersz reported the US could reach the pre-pandemic employment level of 152.5 million by January 2022 if this rate continues.
Though the gains are a sign of recovery, Indeed economist Nick Bunker told Insider in an interview in March that it was still “way too early to get excited” despite job gains above what economists expected in February.
“Not only is the pace of growth we’re seeing insufficient to really make a dent in the jobs trend, but also we need many, many more months to really make any sort of clawback in the millions of jobs we’ve lost over the course of the pandemic,” Bunker said. He added that there would need to be even larger monthly gains to see significant progress back to pre-pandemic levels.
Conversely, without the pandemic and its devastating effect on industries, the labor market could have seen growth.
“If we think about in the last year, there probably would have been reasonable job growth as there had been in the months leading up to the pandemic recession,” Elise Gould, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said.
The unemployment rate is still far above what it was a year ago and could be higher than the reported figure.
Before the pandemic, unemployment was at a low rate of 3.5%. The unemployment rate spiked to almost 15% in April, the highest rate since modern unemployment figures began in 1948. A majority of states also had record high rates in April.
But since April’s peak, the headline unemployment rate has slowly declined, reaching a single-digit reading in August. The rate was 6.0% in March, 0.2 percentage points less than February’s rate.
The “real” unemployment rate may have been closer to almost 20% in April when taking into account those who lost work during the pandemic but were missed by the headline figure. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said January’s unemployment rate was about 10% when considering Americans whose employment status had been misclassified and Americans who left the labor force.
Insider estimated that the unemployment rate would really be closer to 9% in February with those inclusions and 8.7% in March. Either way, the unemployment rate is lower than in last spring but still higher than before the pandemic.
New York, Hawaii, and Nevada are some of the states with large employment declines between February 2020 and February 2021.
The state with the largest percent change in employment between February 2020 and February 2021, the latest month for which data is available, was Hawaii, where employment was 17.8% below pre-pandemic levels.
This is in part because the pandemic has greatly affected tourism in the state. Though Hawaii started allowing visitors with a negative test result from other states to bypass the mandatory quarantine several months ago, tourism is still low compared with a year ago.
Although Hawaii’s employment is still far below pre-pandemic levels and still has the highest unemployment rate among the states, BLS notes in the latest monthly release that the state had the largest “over-the-month unemployment rate decrease” of 1.1 percentage points, from 10.3% to 9.2%.
Idaho and Utah have seen stronger employment recovery, and they had roughly the same number of jobs as they did in February 2020. Idaho has even surpassed its February 2020 employment level.
The number of unemployed Americans who have been out of work for at least 27 weeks has been increasing over the past year.
More and more Americans have been unemployed for longer than just a few weeks during the pandemic.
Of the roughly 9.7 million Americans unemployed in March, 43.4%, or over 4 million Americans, were long-term unemployed. Gould said in an interview in February this rising level of long-term unemployment was “devastating.”
The millions of Americans still receiving extended unemployment benefits provided by the federal government’s stimulus actions in the past year also highlight the unemployment situation.
“At a combined 5.8 million, [Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation] and Extended Benefits (EB), two programs available after regular benefits have been exhausted, highlight the enormous number of people pushed into long term joblessness,” the Indeed economist AnnElizabeth Konkel said in a press email in March.
Though Americans may worry about how a résumé gap looks, the TopResume career expert Amanda Augustine told Insider in an email in February that “employers care less about employment gaps than they once did” based on a survey from the service.
The number of initial jobless claims has fallen since its peak, but there were over 714,000 non-seasonally adjusted claims in the week that ended March 27.
The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits for the first time each week has been slowly declining, but The Wall Street Journal wrote that claims were still above the record before the pandemic: 695,000 in October 1982.
Insider’s Ben Winck reported that “over 83 million claims have been made since the year-ago surge.”
Konkel told The Wall Street Journal that the US needed to get the “public health situation under control” so that there would be a significant decline in claims.
The $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package also included changes to unemployment benefits. The package extends $300 weekly unemployment benefits until September and give a tax break to eligible Americans.
“We need to make sure that people who are continuing to be hurt have that really valuable safety net,” Gould said.
After it fell by about 3 percentage points between February 2020 and April, the rate of labor-force participation is about 2 percentage points below its February 2020 level.
Some Americans left the labor force completely amid the pandemic, meaning they’re neither working nor actively looking for a job.
Around 1.8 million women over 20 have left the labor force since February 2020. The National Women’s Law Center wrote that the rate of labor-force participation for women hasn’t been this low since 1988. About 1.9 million men over 20 have also left the labor force.
One reason Americans left the workforce is childcare. The Associated Press reported in September that working mothers in particular were leaving the labor force amid “few child care options and the added burden of navigating distance learning.”
C. Nicole Mason, the president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told Insider in an interview in March she also believed there was a strong relationship between schools not reopening and women leaving the workforce in such high numbers between August and September.
Mason said getting the virus under control and reopening schools were main priorities that would benefit women getting back into the labor force. She added there needed to be more reskilling and training opportunities because some jobs were likely to never return, so some Americans will have to work in different sectors than they were in before.
Employment to population ratios have fallen across gender, racial, and ethnic groups, but the impact of the pandemic has varied.
The employment-to-population ratio is the share of working-age Americans who have a job.
This metric illustrates how the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on Black and Hispanic Americans. For Black women who are at least 20 years old, the non-seasonally adjusted ratio was 60.7% before the pandemic and 54.8% in March. For white women, this non-seasonally adjusted ratio has dropped from 56.8% to 53.9% during that same time.
For Hispanic and Latina women, the rate has dropped from 59.1% to 53.7% in March 2021. For Asian women, the rate had also dropped from 57.7% to 55.3%.
Mason said women of color made up a large share of employment in some of the hardest-hit industries, like education and healthcare services, and had “lost a disproportionate number of jobs compared to men and other groups of women.”
This chart was updated with additional data.
Low-wage workers have been one of the hardest-hit groups of Americans, while higher-wage workers have not taken as big a hit.
A Federal Reserve Bank of New York study found low-wage workers had been especially affected, in part because many work in industries like leisure and hospitality and retail that have seen a large number of job losses during the pandemic. Many lower-wage jobs also can’t be done remotely.
According to the study authors’ calculations using individual-level data from the US Census Bureau, Americans who made less than $30,000 had the largest percent decline in employment between February 2020 and April at about 37%. Workers who made above $85,000 had barely any change in jobs in this same period, with a percent decrease of about 1%.
Low-wage jobs have recovered since then, but the gap relative to pre-pandemic employment is still the largest among the wage levels.
Similarly, jobs that can’t really be done from home have had the largest declines.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York study said one reason low-wage workers took the brunt of job losses was that their jobs tended to not allow for remote work.
Indeed data showed industries that had suffered large job losses compared with their pre-pandemic levels were those with a low ability to be done from home. A Pew Research analysis found similar results, saying those with college degrees were more likely to have the ability to work remotely.
In February 2021, Indeed found low work-from-home industries were 7.9% below February employment, about three times larger than the 2.9% decline for high work-from-home industries.
Low work-from-home industries also were hit hard in the large wave of job losses in April, with a percent decline of 22.1%, about four times that of high work-from-home jobs.
Based on pre-pandemic data, the Economic Policy Institute found that only about 10% of leisure and hospitality workers could do work remotely, while workers in financial activities had a share of almost 60%.
Job recovery among major industries has been unequal.
Leisure and hospitality has been an industry affected by a lack of demand and closures during the pandemic. This industry added 280,000 more jobs last month but is still far below pre-pandemic levels compared with others, at 18.5% below pre-pandemic employment in March 2021.
Utilities and financial activities are two industries that haven’t been as affected, as seen by their percent changes since February 2020. One reason for this is that financial-activities jobs are more likely to allow for remote work.
Most detailed industries are still below employment from a year ago, but the depth of the employment gap varies.
The industries that had some of the largest percent declines from February 2020 to March 2021 were low-wage industries, according to May 2020 median-wage data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The motion-picture and sound-recording industry had one of the largest percent changes from the past 13 months. March 2021 employment was 40.3% below February 2020 employment of 441,900.
Bars and restaurants made up the majority of leisure and hospitality job gains last month, similar to the gains in the sector in February. Employment in food services and drinking places was still about 15% below pre-pandemic levels in March.
In contrast, employment for couriers and messengers was 23.3% above February 2020 levels in March 2021, and employment in warehousing and storage was 6.5% above those levels. Both of these industries have benefited from people ordering from home.
The number of job postings on Indeed continues to increase, showing more opportunities for job seekers than about a year ago and a recovery from the spring.
There may be some good news based on data from Indeed. The job site found that the number of job postings on their platform was 16.4% higher than on February 1, 2020. Indeed job postings have slowly increased since lows in May, and postings started to be around February 2020’s number as of mid-January.
Bunker said job postings needed to be significantly higher than postings in the beginning of February 2020 “for a considerable amount of time” to see job recovery to levels from before the pandemic.
According to a recent Indeed report, there has also been a rebound in healthcare. Jobs related to e-commerce and goods are also well above pre-pandemic levels on Indeed. These include production and manufacturing jobs, as well as loading and stocking jobs.
Looking for work is tough during the pandemic recession.
For Beasley, she has been on a few interviews so far but is still waiting for a job offer.
Augustine said unemployed Americans should use the time to network, look for ways to upskill, and try “skills-based volunteer” opportunities.
“Remember, you’re looking for work during an extraordinary time, so don’t be hard on yourself. This is not your typical job market,” Augustine said in an email.
Beasley is evaluating what she really wants out of life, as she thinks others have done amid the pandemic, she said. She said she was interested in volunteering more once the virus is under control. In terms of employment, she hopes to go back to her previous job but is also trying to find where her 20 years of human-resources expertise may fit.
“I think it’s just time for me to try something else, and there’s a way to do it,” Beasley said. “I don’t know how to figure all that out yet, but I’m working on it.”
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