The Corner

Economy & Business

How Bad Is the Job Market?

A man speaks with a library worker after receiving an unemployment form in Hialeah, FL, April 8, 2020. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

We learned from today’s report on unemployment-insurance benefits that the job market is deteriorating rapidly and to an historic degree. In the six-week period ending last week, over 30 million workers filed for unemployment benefits for the first time. To put that in context, the worst six-week period during the Great Recession ended on March 28, 2009, with 3.9 million initial benefit claims.

But official government statistics on measures such the unemployment rate and the workforce-participation rate are produced with a lag, and what we have available is out of date. The most recent data available for those key measures capture a snapshot of the labor market from mid March. In my latest Bloomberg column, I discuss some economic research on the job market that is more current:

* Economists Lisa B. Kahn, Fabian Lange and David Wiczer analyze data on job vacancies that are available online. They find a 30 percent collapse in vacancy postings, reflecting a massive decline in companies’ demand for workers.

* Kahn, Lange, and Wiczer find employers in all states pulled back, regardless of how hard they have been hit by the pandemic or how early they imposed lockdown orders.

* Economists Alexander Bick and Adam Blandin designed a survey that asks the same questions as the government, but more often. The most recent government data are for mid-March, and report a 73 percent employment rate for 18- to 64-year-olds. As of mid-April, according to the Bick and Blandin survey, this rate dropped to 56 percent. That 23 percent decline marks the lowest employment rate for the U.S. since 1962.

* According to the government, 4.5 percent of workers ages 18-64 were unemployed the week of March 8. Three weeks later, the Bick and Blandin survey reported a Depression-level 20.2 percent unemployment rate for this group of workers. By the week of April 12, the survey found that this unemployment rate had dropped to 16.2 percent.

Check out my column for more, and for my full analysis. Your comments, as always, are very welcome.

Michael R. Strain — Michael R. Strain is the director of economic-policy studies and the Arthur F. Burns Scholar in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute.  

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