Dig beneath the topline numbers in the government’s monthly jobs report and you can see just how unprecedented the pandemic-fueled jobs crisis really is. Every aspect of Americans’ working lives has changed — for the worse.
The US economy is down 9.9 million jobs since the pandemic began, more than the jobs lost in the Great Recession. That number is even worse than what we expected just a month ago, since the government lowered jobs statistics in revised reports from November and December. A chart of job creation looks more like a backwards square root symbol than the “Super-V” recovery former President Donald Trump touted.
These stats serve as a reminder that the pre-pandemic US economy relied heavily on a small army of women working multiple part-time jobs. Many of these women are also caregivers for elderly relatives and kids learning from home.
The long-term unemployed
Almost 40% of people out of work have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer, a dangerous signal of potentially permanent scarring for those workers.
“The potential for lasting damage rises the longer people are unemployed,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. He noted many of the long-term unemployed worked in industries that have been slowed the most by the pandemic. “Many of these people, I’m guessing, will go back to jobs in the hospitality sector post-Covid. I hope the return to pre-pandemic levels will be quicker than the nine years it took after the crash of ’08.”
A lot depends, of course, on more help nursing the jobs market along until widespread availability and adoption of a vaccine finally ends the pandemic.
Until Covid-19 is under control, people simply can’t get back to work. An astonishing 14.8 million workers say they are out of a job because their workplace had closed or business was so slow there weren’t any hours available. And work looks a whole lot different for those who are still employed: almost a quarter said they are working remotely.
The jobless rate
At 6.3%, the jobless rate fell to a pandemic-era low. But not for a good reason. Another 400,000 workers dropped out of the labor market in January alone. Most either couldn’t find a job and stopped looking, or faced family obligations that forced them to take on the unpaid job of taking care of relatives and kids.
By many estimates, the jobless rate understates the historic disruption in the labor market. Fed Chair Jerome Powell last week testified that the jobless rate would be at 10% if workers who have dropped out of the labor market were counted as unemployed.
“These official numbers are a vast undercount of the number of workers being harmed by the weak labor market,” notes the progressive Economic Policy Institute. “In fact, more than 25.5 million workers — 15% of the workforce — are either unemployed, otherwise out of work due to the pandemic, or employed but experiencing a drop in hours and pay.”