The health of labor markets post-pandemic: The demand perspective

Successful vaccines are bringing the pandemic effectively to an end. And, as economic activity resumes, firms everywhere appear to be having serious difficulties hiring: The news is filled with middling labor market reports, alarming anecdotes, and long restaurant wait times.

The FRED graph above quantifies this shift by depicting, across industries, the number of job openings at the end of each month. It’s very clear that across the board this number has jumped significantly, especially in the past few months.

Such a jump is a very positive development for the U.S. economy. The number of job openings at any given time is affected by both how difficult it is for firms to fill openings and how many openings firms offer in the first place. Insofar as the recent increase is caused by firms expanding, it’s clear that firms are expecting future business growth. Consult the graph to compare the recent jumps to the much lower number of job openings after the Great Recession and its lengthy “jobless recovery.”

The industry-level numbers are noteworthy: The leisure and hospitality industry, frequently the focus of news stories about worker shortages, has had the largest increase in job openings. But the other industries aren’t far behind, despite being significantly less impacted by the pandemic, as data from the same data release show. While leisure and hospitality lost over 3 million jobs in 2020, the others lost less than a million. Chalk that up to the pandemic’s lopsided impact on these various industries.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post: “The health of labor markets post-pandemic: The supply perspective.”

How these graphs were created: First graph: Search for and select “Job openings: Health care and social assistance.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Add line” tab to search for and add “Job openings: Leisure and Hospitality.” Do the same for “Job Openings: Manufacturing” and “Job Openings: Trade, Transportation, and Utilities.” Adjust the date range to mirror the dates shown in the blog post. Second graph: Search for and select “Hires: Health Care and Social Assistance.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Edit Line” tab to modify frequency to be annual with “Aggregation method” set to “Sum”; then add “Total Separations: Health Care and Social Assistance” under “Customize data” and set “Formula” to “a-b.” Do the same for the other industries (“Leisure and Hospitality,” “Manufacturing,” and “Trade, Transportation, and Utilities”), adding hires for each using the “Add line” tab and then repeating the steps above. Finally, go to the “Format” tab and set “Graph type” to “Bar” and set the date range to mirror the dates shown in the blog post.

Suggested by Carlos Garriga and Devin Werner.