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Regional Matters

June 17, 2020

Observing Recent Trends in Job Postings

Introduction

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States in March, governors across the country put social distancing and stay-at-home orders into effect to limit the spread of the virus. These specific measures, along with the more general disruption in economic activity, caused many businesses to modify their operations and some to shut down altogether, leading to a historic decline in employment. Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides detailed information about job losses and gains by sector. However, these data are only available with a lag. Regional employment data at the state level, for example, are released approximately three weeks after the reference month. Looking at higher frequency indicators like job postings can provide real-time insights into how labor demand is evolving each week.

How Have Job Postings Changed Recently?

For this article, we look at recent online job posting data provided by Chmura Economics and Analytics. We present these data for the Fifth District and the United States across different dimensions including full-time versus part-time employment, occupational categories, and minimum education requirements. For comparison, we calculate the percent change in job postings relative to postings from the week ending February 29, which we refer to as the base period. We examine weekly postings for a three-month period ending May 30. It should be noted that the week containing May 30 captures Memorial Day weekend, which may have impacted the number of postings. Therefore, we discuss trends in the data through the week ending May 23.

The chart below shows that the total number of job postings started to decline significantly in the United States and in most Fifth District jurisdictions starting the second week of March and then steadily declined until about mid-April. During the week ending April 18, there were 56 percent fewer job postings in South Carolina, 49 percent fewer in North Carolina, 46 percent fewer in Virginia, and 41 percent fewer in Maryland compared to the base period. Then over the next several weeks, the number of postings started to rise and continued an upswing in most Fifth District jurisdictions through the week ending May 23. In fact, there were 0.7 percent more job postings in West Virginia for the week ending May 23 than in the base period. North Carolina and South Carolina had 5 and 6 percent fewer postings than in the base period, respectively, while the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia remained further below their pre-COVID-19 levels.

Although job postings have generally moved up toward February levels, it is important to put this rebound in perspective. Nearly 20 million jobs in the United States were lost, on net, since February, and employment is a long way from fully recovering from the COVID-19 crisis.

Full-Time and Part-Time

The next chart presents job postings for full-time and part-time positions. Postings for each employment type fell through March, but part-time postings continued to decline through mid-April while full-time postings leveled off. During the week ending April 11, job postings for part-time positions in the United States and Fifth District were down 66 percent and 68 percent from their February levels, respectively. Part-time postings started to rebound in the second half of April and spiked toward the end of May. There were 20 percent and 14 percent more part-time postings the week ending May 23 for the United States and Fifth District, respectively, than during the week ending February 29. In comparison, there were 14 percent and 20 percent fewer full-time postings the week ending May 23 for the United States and Fifth District, respectively, compared to the base period.

Occupational Categories

Some occupations require closer physical contact than others and are therefore more affected by social distancing, as the New York and St. Louis Feds recently explored. Between the last week of February and mid-April, job postings for personal care and service occupations, for example, fell by 76 percent nationally while ads for food service positions decreased by 68 percent. Job postings in the Fifth District showed similar trends, as personal care and service postings decreased by 81 percent and food service postings fell by 75 percent. Postings for health care practitioners and health care support jobs also decreased, but by less than other high-contact occupations. By the week ending May 23, job postings for each of these three occupational categories had rebounded to near February levels, but the timing of the rebound varied. Food service started its upswing in early April, followed by personal care in late April, and health care in early May.

Education Requirements

Job postings requiring a minimum of a high school diploma experienced a large decline through mid-April but have also experienced the biggest rebound compared to jobs with higher educational requirements. By the week ending April 11, positions requiring a high school diploma dropped by more than 50 percent from the base period. By the week ending May 23, these postings were 10 percent below the base period level in the United States and 15 percent below in the Fifth District.

Job postings requiring a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree did not initially fall by as much as postings requiring only a high school diploma, but they remained well below their February levels through May. By the week ending May 23, bachelor’s postings were still about 40 percent below their pre-COVID-19 level. Master’s postings were about 20 percent below their base period level.

Conclusion

While not a comprehensive view of labor demand in the United States, job postings data provide a window into the evolving state of the labor market. Overall, changes to job postings in the Fifth District closely followed the national trends for the past three months. When the data are segmented, we observe how postings by employment type, occupation, and minimum education requirements have varied in response to COVID-19 and its associated restrictions. Total job postings decreased considerably through April, particularly for high-contact, part-time, and lower-skill jobs. On a positive note, job postings showed signs of recovery in May and for groups that were most impacted, the rebound tended to be the strongest. Overall, however, it is important to note that significant job gains — not just a return to the pre-COVID-19 level of job postings — will be needed to recover the job losses experienced during the first three months of the COVID-19 crisis.


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Views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond or the Federal Reserve System.

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