COVID-19

February jobs numbers don’t reveal much about economic impact of COVID-19

Mitchell Hartman Mar 6, 2020
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The affect of COVID-19 on jobs is likely to show up in shipping and transportation. Above, the cranes are idle at the Port of Los Angeles — the nation's busiest container port — on March 6, 2020. Mario Tama/Getty Images
COVID-19

February jobs numbers don’t reveal much about economic impact of COVID-19

Mitchell Hartman Mar 6, 2020
The affect of COVID-19 on jobs is likely to show up in shipping and transportation. Above, the cranes are idle at the Port of Los Angeles — the nation's busiest container port — on March 6, 2020. Mario Tama/Getty Images
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Up to the week of Feb. 10 — when the Bureau of Labor Statistics surveyed employers and households to put together the monthly jobs report released Friday — things were still going pretty swimmingly. At least, in the U.S., which hadn’t been hit by a lot of the new coronavirus infections, related economic disruptions and financial market turmoil.

The U.S. has since been hit and states are on high alert. What do we do with today’s good news on jobs that looks backwards, given the uncertainty about the economy — and maybe jobs, too — going forward?

The latest job report shows 273,000 new jobs in February and unemployment falling to 3.5%. For Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM Consulting, it’s “really the ‘last waltz’ of strong and robust monthly hiring.”

Betsey Stevenson, professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan, said this is a snapshot of the job market right before major supply and demand shocks from COVID-19 hit — disrupting trade, travel and financial markets in the U.S.

“What a great report it was, but what does it mean for the future?” Stevenson said. “Nothing, right?”

She said we might not know how much this is impacting businesses and consumers from the next jobs report, either.

“Employment data is a lagging indicator. It’s one of the last things we see. When we see those jobs reports starting to tell us a bad story, we’re in the thick of it. The economy’s already in trouble,” Stevenson said.

Brusuelas said a sharp downturn in some economic activity is already evident.

“I’m calling this the tip of the spear — the shipping and containers data. A number of weeks ago, the volume of shipping began to slow, in some cases double-digits,” he said, adding that’ll likely show up first in weak hiring — or possibly layoffs — in transportation, wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing.

And an early warning sign of that, Brusuelas said, would be a sharp increase in weekly jobless claims. That could indicate that the unemployment rate is about to head higher.

John Leer, economist at Morning Consult, surveys consumers every week. He said people are still feeling secure in their jobs … except when they think about the future.

“[When they’re asked] to project 12 months into the future whether or not they think they are going to doing better or worse financially than they are today, that indicator took a pretty strong drop last week,” Leer said.

It’s stabilized this week, and he said he’s monitoring it closely, because high consumer confidence and robust consumer spending are central to sustaining the economic expansion.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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