There has been a lot of positive news about the economic recovery this week. Total output, or gross domestic product, is now nearly back to pre-pandemic levels, and consumer confidence is improving as more Americans are vaccinated. Plus there is a surge in consumer spending, driven by record-setting personal income. That’s being pumped up by relief checks and more Americans getting back to work.
But how does the labor market look overall? We get the April jobs report next week, and it’s expected to be strong. However, the number of jobs in the U.S. is nowhere near where it was just before the pandemic hit.
To find out what is happening in the job market right now, or as close as we can get to it, it helps to look at “high-frequency” data like daily work shifts and job postings on employment websites.
Economist AnnElizabeth Konkel, at the Indeed Hiring Lab, said that “as of last Friday, job postings on Indeed were up 22.4% compared to their pre-pandemic baseline, so a huge improvement.”
Konkel added that means employers were advertising 22% more jobs than before the pandemic, when the economy was going gangbusters.
“And I know that sounds like kind of a huge number,” she said, “but we really want to see that continue to go up, so we can pull the millions who are not working right now back into the labor market.”
Postings are strongest in the most pandemic-proof sectors, like warehousing, driving, construction and pharmacies. Employers are still offering fewer jobs in travel, tourism and sporting events than before the pandemic, Konkel said.
Another real-time indicator of the labor market is how many Americans are on the job right now.
Dave Gilbertson, at payroll processor UKG, which by the way is a Marketplace underwriter, said, “This high-frequency data is literally how many people were working as of just a couple days ago.”
UKG tracks hourly workers punching in, mostly in-person service and production workers. Gilbertson said, “We’re still about 10% lower than what we were seeing in the run-up to the pandemic.”
So the job market is still recovering, but definitely not fully recovered. Part of the reason, Gilbertson said, is the missing employers. “We’ve seen around 15% of all companies with less than 100 employees have gone away entirely during this pandemic.” And adding companies that can hire new employees will take time, he said.
Economist David Berson at Nationwide Insurance said that in regard to the current employment market, “we’re about 8 million below when the COVID recession hit, and it’s going to take some time to fully employ those 8 million workers.”
Berson forecast we will get there late next year or early 2023.