Latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey data further illustrate the catastrophic COVID-19 labor market

This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data for March, which further confirms what we already know: The labor market deteriorated quickly through the month of March. As a reminder, JOLTS data are for the whole month (not just mid-month, like the monthly employment numbers). JOLTS shows a net decline of 9.3 million jobs in March, while the monthly employment numbers showed a loss of 870,000. The difference is due to the labor market collapse in the last half of March.

Total separations hit an all-time high of 14.5 million in March. The increase from February of 8.9 million was nearly 13 times faster than any other point in the history of the survey, which dates back to 2000. Separations occurred across nearly all sectors of the economy, but the largest losses were found in leisure and hospitality, other services, retail trade, and education and health services.

The number of layoffs more than account for the increase in the total number of separations. Between February and March, layoffs increased by 9.5 million, hitting 11.4 million in March. In April 2009—the worst month of the Great Recession for layoffs—there were nearly 2.7 million layoffs, or 2% of the workforce. Layoffs in March were more than four times larger than the worst month in the Great Recession.

The layoffs rate—the number of layoffs during the entire month as a percent of total employment—hit 7.5%, more than three times larger than the series high. As with separations, the largest numbers of layoffs occurred in the service sectors. There were nearly 4.9 million layoffs in leisure and hospitality, almost all in accommodation and food services. There were more than 1.1 million layoffs in retail trade and 1.2 million layoffs in education and health services.

JOLTS

Total hires, layoffs, and quits, 2000–2020

Month Hires Layoffs Quits
Dec-2000 5426 2035 2868
Jan-2001 5722 2220 3261
Feb-2001 5303 1838 3040
Mar-2001 5528 2126 3041
Apr-2001 5204 1880 3172
May-2001 5410 2041 2991
Jun-2001 5109 2004 2886
Jul-2001 5244 2060 2969
Aug-2001 5223 2004 2933
Sep-2001 4954 2101 2704
Oct-2001 5078 2327 2798
Nov-2001 4914 2260 2544
Dec-2001 4829 1931 2553
Jan-2002 4855 1908 2857
Feb-2002 4801 1964 2558
Mar-2002 4706 1870 2479
Apr-2002 4928 1956 2633
May-2002 4857 1977 2536
Jun-2002 4869 2003 2529
Jul-2002 4946 2120 2579
Aug-2002 4871 1915 2567
Sep-2002 4879 2016 2522
Oct-2002 4798 1940 2426
Nov-2002 4792 1950 2388
Dec-2002 4893 2014 2490
Jan-2003 5058 2113 2436
Feb-2003 4714 2006 2473
Mar-2003 4470 1939 2382
Apr-2003 4600 1999 2289
May-2003 4678 2078 2290
Jun-2003 4682 2065 2322
Jul-2003 4639 2078 2283
Aug-2003 4666 2154 2201
Sep-2003 4799 1927 2357
Oct-2003 4902 1975 2421
Nov-2003 4767 1954 2395
Dec-2003 4984 2012 2436
Jan-2004 4900 2044 2360
Feb-2004 4788 1972 2437
Mar-2004 5227 2052 2573
Apr-2004 5152 2013 2541
May-2004 4976 1917 2427
Jun-2004 5009 1877 2667
Jul-2004 4891 1895 2631
Aug-2004 5013 1964 2591
Sep-2004 5062 2024 2535
Oct-2004 5149 1911 2558
Nov-2004 5181 2042 2776
Dec-2004 5153 1953 2687
Jan-2005 5201 2017 2740
Feb-2005 5276 2059 2642
Mar-2005 5273 2179 2738
Apr-2005 5362 1961 2747
May-2005 5271 2020 2763
Jun-2005 5376 2007 2759
Jul-2005 5328 1905 2744
Aug-2005 5409 1900 2963
Sep-2005 5493 2031 3051
Oct-2005 5124 1881 2869
Nov-2005 5344 1773 2881
Dec-2005 5294 1926 2841
Jan-2006 5271 1796 2949
Feb-2006 5474 1875 2948
Mar-2006 5524 1877 2948
Apr-2006 5215 1856 2783
May-2006 5498 1988 3003
Jun-2006 5455 1807 3046
Jul-2006 5573 1865 3059
Aug-2006 5373 1771 3062
Sep-2006 5288 1828 2895
Oct-2006 5375 1905 2992
Nov-2006 5495 1928 3025
Dec-2006 5214 1775 2987
Jan-2007 5426 1936 2959
Feb-2007 5160 1845 2921
Mar-2007 5479 1872 2985
Apr-2007 5353 2002 2913
May-2007 5469 1963 3012
Jun-2007 5267 1836 2912
Jul-2007 5217 1904 2958
Aug-2007 5358 2029 3023
Sep-2007 5344 2186 2698
Oct-2007 5398 2005 2933
Nov-2007 5176 1967 2774
Dec-2007 5119 1923 2763
Jan-2008 5071 2010 2851
Feb-2008 5077 1990 2866
Mar-2008 4924 1906 2652
Apr-2008 4948 1957 2840
May-2008 4691 1948 2609
Jun-2008 4893 2153 2597
Jul-2008 4637 2076 2495
Aug-2008 4682 2185 2452
Sep-2008 4499 2087 2477
Oct-2008 4548 2253 2352
Nov-2008 4104 2289 2148
Dec-2008 4348 2497 2081
Jan-2009 4095 2614 1978
Feb-2009 4061 2590 1945
Mar-2009 3858 2560 1829
Apr-2009 3888 2651 1713
May-2009 3758 2228 1684
Jun-2009 3639 2242 1686
Jul-2009 3857 2274 1689
Aug-2009 3810 2113 1561
Sep-2009 3944 2195 1631
Oct-2009 3838 2028 1663
Nov-2009 4024 1911 1803
Dec-2009 4004 2045 1758
Jan-2010 3904 1902 1744
Feb-2010 3864 1817 1834
Mar-2010 4302 1916 1853
Apr-2010 4159 1744 1898
May-2010 4420 1761 1814
Jun-2010 4111 2061 1911
Jul-2010 4163 2173 1789
Aug-2010 4046 1886 1852
Sep-2010 4034 1834 1901
Oct-2010 4173 1746 1848
Nov-2010 4182 1848 1881
Dec-2010 4299 1865 1968
Jan-2011 4000 1846 1833
Feb-2011 4231 1748 1952
Mar-2011 4430 1787 2028
Apr-2011 4296 1787 1883
May-2011 4261 1903 1966
Jun-2011 4366 1926 1923
Jul-2011 4261 1850 1990
Aug-2011 4298 1842 2043
Sep-2011 4429 1875 2045
Oct-2011 4370 1796 2000
Nov-2011 4365 1911 2031
Dec-2011 4356 1811 1975
Jan-2012 4457 1817 2032
Feb-2012 4560 1896 2123
Mar-2012 4575 1775 2163
Apr-2012 4389 1868 2136
May-2012 4533 1968 2140
Jun-2012 4440 1883 2151
Jul-2012 4327 1729 2075
Aug-2012 4450 1889 2080
Sep-2012 4302 1808 1957
Oct-2012 4389 1897 2037
Nov-2012 4489 1920 2070
Dec-2012 4452 1708 2045
Jan-2013 4487 1690 2281
Feb-2013 4571 1655 2281
Mar-2013 4369 1780 2118
Apr-2013 4572 1786 2297
May-2013 4663 1833 2237
Jun-2013 4440 1755 2203
Jul-2013 4561 1731 2367
Aug-2013 4730 1814 2331
Sep-2013 4726 1892 2307
Oct-2013 4518 1681 2374
Nov-2013 4622 1630 2384
Dec-2013 4614 1774 2281
Jan-2014 4626 1815 2312
Feb-2014 4696 1758 2401
Mar-2014 4763 1697 2441
Apr-2014 4880 1752 2476
May-2014 4808 1706 2486
Jun-2014 4925 1753 2506
Jul-2014 5008 1801 2637
Aug-2014 4810 1698 2564
Sep-2014 5149 1716 2737
Oct-2014 5111 1844 2721
Nov-2014 4978 1727 2588
Dec-2014 5192 1860 2543
Jan-2015 5061 1800 2766
Feb-2015 5127 1746 2731
Mar-2015 5126 1960 2748
Apr-2015 5196 1848 2706
May-2015 5142 1708 2746
Jun-2015 5125 1813 2756
Jul-2015 5150 1721 2768
Aug-2015 5163 1773 2888
Sep-2015 5287 1963 2783
Oct-2015 5338 1852 2814
Nov-2015 5358 1779 2891
Dec-2015 5540 1804 3043
Jan-2016 5204 1831 2893
Feb-2016 5559 1926 2997
Mar-2016 5362 1877 2900
Apr-2016 5277 1774 2954
May-2016 5206 1792 3010
Jun-2016 5277 1733 2988
Jul-2016 5419 1786 2976
Aug-2016 5301 1827 3007
Sep-2016 5283 1596 3044
Oct-2016 5234 1636 3078
Nov-2016 5316 1767 3017
Dec-2016 5380 1718 2986
Jan-2017 5517 1765 3176
Feb-2017 5366 1698 3081
Mar-2017 5395 1749 3134
Apr-2017 5265 1704 3034
May-2017 5454 1796 3126
Jun-2017 5642 1958 3157
Jul-2017 5502 1900 3118
Aug-2017 5528 1866 3134
Sep-2017 5401 1807 3212
Oct-2017 5635 1819 3193
Nov-2017 5473 1732 3157
Dec-2017 5426 1736 3222
Jan-2018 5511 1957 3034
Feb-2018 5669 1781 3175
Mar-2018 5629 1794 3301
Apr-2018 5587 1729 3373
May-2018 5819 1776 3405
Jun-2018 5783 1807 3389
Jul-2018 5691 1791 3443
Aug-2018 5792 1796 3446
Sep-2018 5610 1780 3400
Oct-2018 5855 1830 3485
Nov-2018 5818 1910 3460
Dec-2018 5762 1832 3415
Jan-2019 5834 1734 3530
Feb-2019 5703 1791 3541
Mar-2019 5689 1698 3525
Apr-2019 6000 1950 3492
May-2019 5687 1764 3486
Jun-2019 5760 1763 3481
Jul-2019 5975 1812 3612
Aug-2019 5839 1792 3544
Sep-2019 5959 1962 3429
Oct-2019 5757 1778 3442
Nov-2019 5857 1769 3528
Dec-2019 5927 1893 3528
Jan-2020 5925 1741 3574
Feb-2020 5864 1846 3436
Mar-2020 5206 11372 2782
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Note: Shaded areas denote recessions.

Source: EPI analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey

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On the flip side, workers are quitting their jobs at much lower rates than in the pre-pandemic economy: quits dropped by 20% in March, from 3.4 million to 2.8 million. This is not a good sign—a large number of quits signifies a healthy labor market in which people can leave their job to find one that is better for them. One likely reason quits didn’t drop even further is because people had to, for example, leave a job to take care of a child whose school closed as a result of the virus.

Job openings fell precipitously from 7.0 million on the last business day of February down to 6.2 million on the last business day of March. While this drop of -813,000 was the largest one-month drop in the history of the survey, it’s a bit surprising it didn’t fall further given other labor market indicators. Hires also fell in March from 5.9 million to 5.2 million, again the largest drop on record. Nearly all sectors experienced a drop in hires, with the exception of construction.