State of the Labor Market

March 2020 Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey


Layoffs hit an all-time high.

The JOLTS data for March only captured part of the coronavirus shock, but the numbers released this morning are still astounding. With employers quickly shedding workers, the number of layoffs and discharges hit an all-time high. Workers lost jobs at a horrifying rate. And back in March, the coronavirus shock was only being felt in the second half of the month.

Layoffs spiked drastically. There were 11.4 million layoffs and discharges in March, an all-time high and almost 10 times more than in February. Not surprisingly, 4.4 million of those layoffs were in the accommodation and food services industry, which was directly in the firing line of the coronavirus. Retail was the second most affected industry with 1.1 million layoffs.

Typically, hiring falls before employment growth does in recessions, and more severely, but that wasn’t the case in March. The March data indicates that this labor market recession is unique. Employers led with layoffs and hiring slowed, but not as dramatically as one might have expected. Hiring will be key for getting out of this hole, but these data show just how swiftly and deeply it was dug. 

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