Latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey data further illustrate the catastrophic COVID-19 labor market
This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data for March, which further confirms what we already know: The labor market deteriorated quickly through the month of March. As a reminder, JOLTS data are for the whole month (not just mid-month, like the monthly employment numbers). JOLTS shows a net decline of 9.3 million jobs in March, while the monthly employment numbers showed a loss of 870,000. The difference is due to the labor market collapse in the last half of March.
Total separations hit an all-time high of 14.5 million in March. The increase from February of 8.9 million was nearly 13 times faster than any other point in the history of the survey, which dates back to 2000. Separations occurred across nearly all sectors of the economy, but the largest losses were found in leisure and hospitality, other services, retail trade, and education and health services.
The number of layoffs more than account for the total number of separations. Between February and March, layoffs increased by 9.5 million, hitting 11.4 million in March. In April 2009—the worst month of the Great Recession for layoffs—there were nearly 2.7 million layoffs, or 2% of the workforce. Layoffs in March were more than four times larger than the worst month in the Great Recession.
The layoffs rate—the number of layoffs during the entire month as a percent of total employment—hit 7.5%, more than three times larger than the series high. As with separations, the largest numbers of layoffs occurred in the service sectors. There were nearly 4.9 million layoffs in leisure and hospitality, almost all in accommodation and food services. There were more than 1.1 million layoffs in retail trade and 1.2 million layoffs in education and health services.
The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.
The data underlying the figure.
Note: Shaded areas denote recessions.
Source: EPI analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey
On the flip side, workers are quitting their jobs at much lower rates than in the pre-pandemic economy: quits dropped by 20% in March, from 3.4 million to 2.8 million. This is not a good sign—a large number of quits signifies a healthy labor market where people can leave their job to find one that is better for them. One likely reason quits didn’t drop even further is because people had to, for example, leave a job to take care of a child whose school closed as a result of the virus.
Job openings fell precipitously from 7.0 million on the last business day of February down to 6.2 million on the last business day of March. While this drop of -813,000 was the largest one-month drop in the history of the survey, it’s a bit surprising it didn’t fall further given other labor market indicators. Hires also fell in March from 5.9 million to 5.2 million, again the largest drop on record. Nearly all sectors experienced a drop in hires, with the exception of construction.