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March Employment Outlook

March 5, 2021
min read
Celestine Grev

March is the one-year anniversary of when COVID-19 began to impact how we live and work. Vaccinations have been underway for several months now, and we all anxiously await a return to normal.

That hope is on the horizon. And the job market does point to increased employment in the most affected industries - like hospitality and leisure - that indicate businesses reopening or scaling up. 

The unemployment rate continued slowly moving downwards in February, landing at 6.2%. This is little change from January’s 6.3% unemployment rate and December’s 6.7% unemployment rate. However, there are still nearly twice as many unemployed Americans now as there were in a year ago (10.0 million in February 2021 vs. 5.7 million in February 2020).

The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics news release on Friday, March 5th, takes a deeper look into February’s labor market numbers and what industries have seen the greatest changes. Check out a few key takeaways below or scroll down for a quick look at the numbers in our monthly infographic.

  1. Recovery from April’s unemployment highs has plateaued. Throughout the summer and fall, we saw strong job gains across industries as part of the recovery from massive COVID-related layoffs and closings in April 2020. In November and December, that recovery slowed, with little change in employment numbers - and the unemployment rate has sat relatively stagnant between 6% and 7% since October. With February in the books at 6.2% unemployment, this is now 5 months with relatively little change. Will this change with warmer temperatures and increased vaccinations? Hopefully. While we’re thankful to now be far from the shocking highs of the early pandemic (14.8% unemployment in April), we still have not come close to pre-pandemic employment numbers, which hovered in the 3% to 4% range.
  2. February’s job gains were driven by the hospitality and leisure industry. After two consecutive months of job losses totaling more than 550,000 jobs, the hospitality and leisure industry made a sharp turn in February, adding 355,000 jobs. This accounted for 94% of the overall employment gains in the month of February. The largest portion of these jobs was in food services and drinking places, likely pointing to decreased restrictions on indoor dining as a result of lower COVID-19 infection rates. 
  3. Warehousing is an industry to watch. One of the only industries to have consistent growth throughout the past year was transportation and warehousing. As buyer behaviors have changed throughout the past year to accelerate shifts from in-person retail to eCommerce, warehouses and distribution centers have been working overtime to accommodate consumers’ needs. January was the first month in recent history to see a loss of jobs in the warehousing sector (-27,800 jobs) and saw just a slight increase this month (+4,400 jobs). Has warehousing reached max hiring capacity for the moment? That remains to be seen. But the warehousing and transportation industry is one to watch in the next few months as more brick and mortar businesses may be reopening.
  4. The impact of the pandemic remains strong on telecommuting and job search struggles. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has been tracking a few important statistics directly related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the workforce. This includes the percentage of employees teleworking, the number of people unable to work because their employer closed or lost business, and the number of people prevented from looking for work - all due to the pandemic. While all of these numbers are down from their peaks, they underscore the effects the virus is still having on the workforce. Nearly a quarter of employed persons teleworked in the past month, and there are still more than 13 million people who reported not working at all or their hours cut because of COVID-19’s impact on their employer’s business. More than 4 million people still report that the pandemic has prevented them from looking for work. These numbers are huge, and they’re clear indicators of the continued changes the pandemic has had on the labor force.

Learn more from the infographic below:

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