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  • Charted: How COVID-19 Has Changed Employment in the U.S. Industry

Charted: How COVID-19 Has Changed Employment in the U.S. Industry

The U.S. Congress and the President continue to negotiate the shape and size of another round of economic stimulus. With deaths from COVID-19 approaching 300,000 as some parts of the U.S. reestablish lockdowns, the unemployment numbers are again trending in the wrong direction. But the coronavirus has already brought massive damage to key industries, as our visualization makes clear.

US Employment Downsizing

  • The coronavirus pandemic decimated the leisure and hospitality industry, shedding almost 50% of all jobs in the two months between February and April 2020. The industry has seen a very slow recovery since.
  • The mining and logging industry, which includes oil drilling, has seen the second most damage in terms of lost employment, dropping over 10% of all jobs with the historic collapse in oil prices.
  • Every industry in our visual has seen a net decrease in employment, however some industries like financial activities and utilities have only been slightly impacted.
  • The overall recovery of U.S. employment to pre-pandemic levels appears to be taking a Nike “swoosh” shaped trajectory, foreshadowing a long and slow grind back to pre-pandemic employment.

We found the data for our visualization from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks employment numbers by industry on a monthly basis. We started with January 2020 as the basis for our graph, when the economy was humming along and unemployment was at record lows. We then plotted the month-by-month percentage change from that point until November, the latest month with available data. We also assigned a color to each line representing a given industry, creating an intuitive snapshot of the dramatic change happening in the economy right now.

Our visualization makes it clear how the leisure and hospitality industry is witnessing the greatest damage due the coronavirus pandemic. Employment tanked from the start of the year, contracting by almost 50% in less than two months from February to April. The industry has since started to regain some lost ground, but overall it is still down by about 20%. The combination of forced closures and the lack of tourism is creating a perfect storm for the leisure and hospitality industry.

But that’s not the only industry suffering a severe economic contraction. Mining and logging is also down over 10% in total employment since the start of the year, making it the second hardest hit industry in terms of jobs lost during the pandemic. What explains this? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics includes oil drilling and petroleum extraction under this category of employment, and oil suffered a historic collapse in tandem with the travel industry. If a lot fewer people are traveling, much less commuting to an office, then the world suddenly needs a lot less oil.

There is also a larger and more significant insight about the state of U.S. employment in our visualization. When the coronavirus first surged across the Northeast and forced widespread lockdowns across the country, economists immediately started to debate the shape of the U.S. recovery. Would demand for goods and employment come roaring back, creating a “V” shaped recovery? Or would there be a prolonged period of economic contraction, to be followed by a rapid rise, creating a “U” shaped recovery? Our visualization makes it clear that at least in terms of employment numbers, the U.S. is currently experiencing a Nike “swoosh” shaped recovery. The depth of the initial fall varied by industry, but the eventual climb back to pre-pandemic employment numbers is a slow grind.

Do you think the U.S. government should pass another round of economic stimulus to help the “swoosh” shaped recovery in employment? Let us know in the comments.

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