How Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Affected the U.S. Labor Market?

Social distancing and the partial economic shutdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have had a profound impact on the U.S. economy, including on people’s jobs and livelihoods.

The overall immediate effects on the labor market have been easy to see: The unemployment rate shot up in the early months of the COVID-19 crisis in the U.S., and payroll employment numbers show that more than 20 million jobs were lost in April—a record amount for one month. (Employment has increased every month since then, and unemployment declined to 7.9% in September after a 14.7% April peak.)

But these aggregate numbers don’t tell the whole story. There are many ways to dissect data to get a more complete sense of how the pandemic has affected the U.S. labor market, including which workers have felt the most impact.

This post provides a roundup of some recent St. Louis Fed analyses that examined different aspects of unemployment and employment during the pandemic. Some takeaways:

  • When other measures of unemployment started declining, the share of those unemployed for at least 15 weeks continued to rise.
  • The youngest workers saw the biggest decline in employment.
  • The leisure and hospitality sector lost the most jobs in the early months of the pandemic.
  • The lowest-earning occupations were hit the hardest by the pandemic.