Normative Narratives

State of the Labor Market: Jobs and Unemployment Insurance Report Analysis (weekly update!)

Most recent Unemployment Insurance (UI) report (weekly, Thursday at 8:30am). Government Accountability Office report on shortcomings of UI data.

BLS Jobs Report (monthly, First Friday of the month, 8:30 am, last update April on 5/7. State level data typically come out two weeks later, and metropolitan area data two weeks after that).

America is doing well on the vaccination front. As of late April, about 70% of adults 18 and older had received their first shot. Large swaths of the country, including the original epicenter in the northeast, have plans to return to more or less normal life in the near future. Vaccination rates are lower in certain regions and among certain demographic groups, but you have to figure a lot of anti-vaxxers–who were more likely to have been anti-maskers and anti-social-distance-ers earlier in the pandemic–probably got some sort of immunity “the old fashioned way” (by contracting the virus) at this point.

All in all the government is doing everything it can to make vaccines available to anyone who wants one (and then some, with some state and local governments offering incentives to entice those on the fence.) Consumer confidence is up and self-reported rates of anxiety and depression are down. Things are opening back up, the weather is getting nicer, and less people are filing for and relying on unemployment insurance (see charts above). Biden’s popular agenda and agreeable disposition, combined with court rulings and a Justice Dept. committed to police accountability, have begun to address many of the issues that led to unrest during the height of the pandemic.

Enter a less than stellar jobs report. While not terrible, it is not what anybody expected. There is also no better argument for Biden’s infrastructure and human development plans than a jobs report like this.

We remain 5.7 million payroll jobs below the pre-pandemic level (not counting losses for the self-employed). Despite the weak labor market college enrollment rates are down, with community college enrollment taking the largest hit. Women’s labor force participation, which dropped more earlier in the pandemic due to gender-disparities in childcare, remains further from it’s pre-pandemic peak than men’s. Unemployment rates are higher for minority groups, who are also disproportionately represented among the “long term unemployed”, another example of the “last hired, first fired” experience of persons of color during recent recessions. While likely not due to overt discrimination, it is a reflection of how racial wealth disparities and systemic racism play out in our educational systems and ultimately the labor market.

Biden’s plans would address all these issues and then some. It would provide a boost to the labor market now, and set America up for longer-term growth by investing more in our people, infrastructure, and growth industries. Fingers crossed he can get it passed.