Today’s numbers from the federal Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) show both the continuation of our tepid labor market recovery as well as the risks to further progress. Job openings were down slightly, but still fairly strong given the huge amount of damage to the broader labor market. Hiring remains steady, but the rise in layoffs is a reminder that we are not out of the woods. 

While job openings increased in November, the competition for these jobs among the jobless did not increase much, with measures of more enduring unemployment showing competition for new jobs is roughly at levels last seen in mid-2016. While that suggests the current labor market isn’t as dire as the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession, it does mean the labor market lost more than three years of progress.

Many trends in the November data suggested the labor market continued to move forward. However, the rise in layoffs was notable, especially given a more than tripling of layoffs in the accommodation and food services sector, a group of industries particularly exposed to another rise in coronavirus cases. These figures are another reminder that while the overall labor market might have some momentum, the pandemic continues to cause significant damage. Until the pandemic is under control, any labor market recovery will be uneven and unequal.