Category Archives: #COVIDUSA

2/4/21: America’s Scariest Chart: U.S. Employment Situation

Now, the last of the series of posts on U.S. labor markets, concluding with America's Scariest Chart, plotting the index of employment (jobs) in the U.S. based on each recession-recovery cycle:

Despite some positive headline numbers on some labor market metrics, jobs creation in the U.S. is not  progressing well-enough to claim any end in sight for the Covid19-induced recession. Current reading for jobs index, relative to pre-recession highs is woeful. So woeful, today's state of U.S. markets ranks as the second worst jobs recession in modern history, so far, worse than the Great Recession. 

Good news is that in March, pace of recovery accelerated from a major slowdown experienced in the first two months of 2021. The bad news is, unless this pace is sustained, we are risking a scenario where unprecedented policy (fiscal and monetary) supports unleashed since the start of 2Q 2020 will be associated with a jobs recovery that is second-third worst in the modern history of U.S. recessions. Time will tell.


2/4/21: U.S. Duration of Unemployment

One of the America's Scariest Charts - a long-term running issue I have been highlighting for a number of years now - is roaring back to prominence as Covid19 pandemic crisis continues to impact U.S. labor markets across virtually all possible metrics of health.

Here it is: the average duration of unemployment spells:

Unemployment spells become short at the start of the recession as new vintage unemployed join the ranks of long term unemployed. As the recovery sets in, unemployment duration starts to take into the account a different and changing mix of those on unemployment: the share of total unemployed who are short-term unemployed shrinks, the share of the longer term unemployed rises. Secularly, however, virtually every past recession since 1970s on has resulted in a longterm increase in average duration of unemployment during the recovery phase of the business cycle. In other words, the longer term unemployed became even longer-term unemployed. And now, the Covid19 pandemic joins the line of past recessions with continuing on this trend. 

Chart next compares each recession and subsequent recovery period since the end of the WW2 through current:

Based on the average duration of unemployment, we are now (in the Covid19 pandemic recession) are tracking the worst recession on record: the Great Recession. Weeks ahead will tell us, if indeed this will be a new record-breaking recession, beating the length of average unemployment spell established in the Great Recession. But for now, with all the recovery going around, the unemployed are becoming longer and longer-term unemployed.

Not exactly a picture of robust health being restored in the U.S. labor markets.

2/4/21: U.S. New Unemployment Claims

Continuing with the coverage of core statistics for the U.S. labor markets performance. This post covers new unemployment claims through March 20, 2021, with the last two weeks of data being preliminary estimates.

In the week through March 20, 2021, new unemployment claims fell to 656,789, or four weeks running total of 2,892,799 dipping below the peak of the Great Recession levels of 4 weeks total of 3,313,000. This is the good news.

The bad news is that latest reading would rank 58th worst in the history of the weekly series, if we are to exclude the Covid19 period. Another part of the bad news is that last week's weekly rate of decline of 100,412, the fastest rate of decline in four weeks, is actually slower than average weekly rate of decline for the pandemic period. 

4 weeks running average rate of improvement in new unemployment claims is just 14,943. Which means that at this rate of labor market improvements, it will take 30.6 weeks to regain pre-Covid lows of new claims.

Things are improving. But they are improving at less than impressive rates.


2/4/21: U.S. Non-Farm Payrolls

 In the first part of the series of updates on the U.S. labor markets, I covered continued unemployment claims (, followed by the second post covering labor force participation and employment-to-population ratio (

Now, consider total non-farm payrolls - a measure of jobs present in the economy:

Total non-farm payrolls rose in march 2021 to 143,400,000, up on 142,077,000 in February. However, the increase still leaves the payrolls 9,777,000 short of the pre-Covid19 highs. The rate of jobs addition rose in March to 1,323,000 from February growth rate of 1,097,000. Combined jobs expansions of February and March, however, are not sufficient to cover the jobs losses of 2,622,000 sustained in January 2021. Average monthly jobs recovery during the pandemic period is 1,195,000, which means that it will take ca 8 months at the average rate of jobs creation for the economy to regain its pre-Covid19 highs in jobs numbers.

2/4/21: U.S. labor force participation and employment to population ratio


In the previous post, I covered U.S. continued unemployment claims:, noting that decreases in unemployment counts are, in part, driven by workers dropping off unemployment rolls due to exits from the workforce and/or expirations of unemployment benefits. Here is the data on U.S. labor force participation rates and employment to population ratio through March 2021:

Things are still ugly when it comes to these two measures of labor markets health in the U.S: 

  • Latest reading for U.S. labor force participation rate at 61.5 is just a notch up on February's 61.3, but is unchanged on November 2020. Pandemic period average labor force participation rate is woefully low at 61.7, which is still higher than March 2021 reading. March reading is equivalent to the average reading for the decade of the 1970s which was marked by stagflation and high unemployment.
  • Latest reading for U.S. employment to population ratio is at 57.7 - an improvement on February reading of 57.3, and better than the pandemic period average of 56.9, but still comparable to the levels seen only in the early 1980s. 
Both metrics show the brutal nature of the current labor markets, where demand for skills is rising, including in manufacturing, while services jobs (and lower-skilled B2C services jobs in particular) are still hard to find.