Labor market unchanged since late July, new survey shows

Aug. 24, 2020 - Leila Ugincius

Employment rate, ages 18-64. Black/square data is from CPS surveys. Blue/circle data is from online RPS survey. The 95% confidence interval for estimates from the RPS survey are shaded in blue. Previous drafts prior to July 24 displayed RPS estimates using a different weighting scheme. (Courtesy VCU School of Business)

The employment rate remained steady the week of Aug. 9-15, showing roughly unchanged labor market conditions among working-age adults since late July, according to a report by economists from Virginia Commonwealth University and Arizona State University.

During May and early June, a variety of data sources, including the Real-Time Population Survey conducted by Adam Blandin, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the VCU School of Business, and Alexander Bick, Ph.D., an associate professor of economics at Arizona State, reported a large increase in employment and a large decrease in unemployment. Then, between early June and early July, employment was essentially flat.

“A pause in the labor market recovery from early June to early July may have reflected renewed economic uncertainty in the midst of a new wave of infections across several states,” Blandin said.

Since early July, the labor market recovery has resumed, though at a slower pace, the Real-Time Population Survey found.

“The slower pace of the recovery coincides with a higher level of new virus cases compared to May and June, again suggesting that labor market conditions are closely tied to concerns and uncertainty around the virus,” Blandin said. The current employment rate of 63.8% remains well below the February employment rate of 73.8%.

Blandin and Bick started the Real-Time Population Survey out of a desire to use their skills as economists to help policymakers, reporters, analysts and the public during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since launch, their research has been cited widely in national publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Business Insider, Forbes, The New York Times and The Washington Post, and has drawn attention from notable economists worldwide.

The Real-Time Population Survey closely follows the methodology of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey. Blandin and Bick have made improvements with each survey wave and plan to continue refining their methodology going forward.

The latest survey results reflect the week of Aug. 9-15. Other key findings show that among those employed in both February and August, roughly 1 in 5 are now working for a new employer relative to February. The share of individuals working for the same employer has continued to decline in recent months. This suggests that much of the increase in employment since May reflects workers finding new jobs, rather than returning to their old jobs.

The Real-Time Population Survey is conducted in collaboration with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. The results from this survey do not represent official forecasts or views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, its president, the Federal Reserve System or the Federal Open Market Committee.

Subscribe to receive future results at https://sites.google.com/view/covid-rps/.