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COVID-19

Pay no attention to Friday’s jobs numbers

Mitchell Hartman Apr 2, 2020
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Job listings are down in hospitality and travel during COVID-19. Above, a note of closure on the door of the Waterfront Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 19. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Pay no attention to Friday’s jobs numbers

Mitchell Hartman Apr 2, 2020
Job listings are down in hospitality and travel during COVID-19. Above, a note of closure on the door of the Waterfront Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 19. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
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Thursday morning saw another week’s worth of astronomical layoff numbers in the Labor Department’s report on first-time claims for unemployment benefits. The number is 6.6 million. There may have been 3.5 million of those claims last week. 

Friday, we’ll get the monthly jobs report for March. Usually, that’s a pretty good indication of how the economy’s doing. This time, it’s going to be outdated the minute it’s released.

The monthly jobs report is based on a survey of households and employers. But last month’s tsunami of furloughs and layoffs hit after the Bureau of Labor Statistics finished its research. So it won’t be reflected in this month’s report. 

William Rodgers, professor of public policy and chief economist at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, said he expected the unemployment rate to soon surpass the Great Recession high of 10%. 

“What is so chilling is that that took several years to get to,” Rodgers said. “We are potentially going to almost double that in one to two months.”

For a real-time snapshot of the labor market, Nick Bunker at Indeed.com is watching new job postings, which so far are down 15% from last year.

“Folks who lost their jobs aren’t going to be able to find many opportunities as there are just fewer new jobs available,” Bunker said, adding that postings are up in health care and down in fields including hospitality, travel and software development.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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