All in all, it’s an excellent report, with new jobs likely driven by jabs (of covid-19 vaccines), relaxing pandemic restrictions, government fiscal relief, reopening schools and a rebound in sectors that had struggled with unusually bad weather in February.
We still have a long way to go, though. For context, I bring you my monthly look at how this recession compares to previous ones.
As you can see, the jobs deficit — that is, the number of pre-recession jobs that are still “missing” — has shrunk. Last April, there were 14.7 percent fewer jobs than had existed in February; as of last month, that jobs deficit had narrowed to 5.6 percent. That’s an improvement, but the depth of the hole we’re in now is only a bit shallower than it was at the very worst point of the Great Recession. Even if job growth continues at the pace seen in March, it’ll be nine more months before all the ground lost early last spring is recovered. (If there had been no pandemic, of course, the country would expect to have even more jobs than existed in February 2020.)
And for some sectors, the depth of the hole remains enormous. Employment in motion picture and sound recording is down more than 40 percent since February 2020; in accommodation (i.e., hotels), it’s down nearly 30 percent. Fiscal relief can help these businesses and workers some, but until immunization against covid-19 is much more widespread, full recovery will be difficult in these sectors.
There’s one particular group that will almost certainly have difficulty regaining economic ground for a while: working moms.
These women have borne the brunt of this crisis. They’re more likely than men to be employed in industries hurt by the pandemic (such as hospitality, health care or education); and they’re more likely to be their families’ primary caregivers. The latter has been an especially demanding role while in-person schooling largely remains suspended.
Overall, women’s employment losses now look similar to those for men. But the trends look different if workers have minor-aged children. Below is a chart showing employment rates for men and women, sorted by whether they have kids. A couple of caveats: Unlike most Labor Department data you’re likely to see written up from Friday’s report, these are not seasonally adjusted, and they’re based on somewhat smaller sample sizes. The general trend, though, is that mothers are still struggling to return to work:
In just a year, mothers’ hard-won economic gains have been set back quite a lot. As schools continue to reopen, hopefully moms who want to work will be able to get re-employed. But that will take time.
Other inequities remain issues in this recovery. Black and Hispanic workers continue to struggle to regain jobs lost early last spring. The headline unemployment numbers understate the extent of the pain, given how many people have given up looking for work — so are no longer counted as officially “unemployed" — and how many people are still being accidentally misclassified in survey data.
Here’s how these racial and ethnic disparities appear if you look at employment levels relative to the month before the pandemic:
The economic challenge in the months ahead remains primarily a public health challenge: We have to make sure that variants don’t spread faster than vaccinations. Right now, 3 in 10 Americans have had at least one shot. That number needs to get higher, fast.