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

Date Hires Quits Layoffs
Dec-2000  5,426  2,868  2,035
Jan-2001  5,722  3,261  2,220
Feb-2001  5,303  3,040  1,838
Mar-2001  5,528  3,041  2,126
Apr-2001  5,204  3,172  1,880
May-2001  5,410  2,991  2,041
Jun-2001  5,109  2,886  2,004
Jul-2001  5,244  2,969  2,060
Aug-2001  5,223  2,933  2,004
Sep-2001  4,954  2,704  2,101
Oct-2001  5,078  2,798  2,327
Nov-2001  4,914  2,544  2,260
Dec-2001  4,829  2,553  1,931
Jan-2002  4,855  2,857  1,908
Feb-2002  4,801  2,558  1,964
Mar-2002  4,706  2,479  1,870
Apr-2002  4,928  2,633  1,956
May-2002  4,857  2,536  1,977
Jun-2002  4,869  2,529  2,003
Jul-2002  4,946  2,579  2,120
Aug-2002  4,871  2,567  1,915
Sep-2002  4,879  2,522  2,016
Oct-2002  4,798  2,426  1,940
Nov-2002  4,792  2,388  1,950
Dec-2002  4,893  2,490  2,014
Jan-2003  5,058  2,436  2,113
Feb-2003  4,714  2,473  2,006
Mar-2003  4,470  2,382  1,939
Apr-2003  4,600  2,289  1,999
May-2003  4,678  2,290  2,078
Jun-2003  4,682  2,322  2,065
Jul-2003  4,639  2,283  2,078
Aug-2003  4,666  2,201  2,154
Sep-2003  4,799  2,357  1,927
Oct-2003  4,902  2,421  1,975
Nov-2003  4,767  2,395  1,954
Dec-2003  4,984  2,436  2,012
Jan-2004  4,900  2,360  2,044
Feb-2004  4,788  2,437  1,972
Mar-2004  5,227  2,573  2,052
Apr-2004  5,152  2,541  2,013
May-2004  4,976  2,427  1,917
Jun-2004  5,009  2,667  1,877
Jul-2004  4,891  2,631  1,895
Aug-2004  5,013  2,591  1,964
Sep-2004  5,062  2,535  2,024
Oct-2004  5,149  2,558  1,911
Nov-2004  5,181  2,776  2,042
Dec-2004  5,153  2,687  1,953
Jan-2005  5,201  2,740  2,017
Feb-2005  5,276  2,642  2,059
Mar-2005  5,273  2,738  2,179
Apr-2005  5,362  2,747  1,961
May-2005  5,271  2,763  2,020
Jun-2005  5,376  2,759  2,007
Jul-2005  5,328  2,744  1,905
Aug-2005  5,409  2,963  1,900
Sep-2005  5,493  3,051  2,031
Oct-2005  5,124  2,869  1,881
Nov-2005  5,344  2,881  1,773
Dec-2005  5,294  2,841  1,926
Jan-2006  5,271  2,949  1,796
Feb-2006  5,474  2,948  1,875
Mar-2006  5,524  2,948  1,877
Apr-2006  5,215  2,783  1,856
May-2006  5,498  3,003  1,988
Jun-2006  5,455  3,046  1,807
Jul-2006  5,573  3,059  1,865
Aug-2006  5,373  3,062  1,771
Sep-2006  5,288  2,895  1,828
Oct-2006  5,375  2,992  1,905
Nov-2006  5,495  3,025  1,928
Dec-2006  5,214  2,987  1,775
Jan-2007  5,426  2,959  1,936
Feb-2007  5,160  2,921  1,845
Mar-2007  5,479  2,985  1,872
Apr-2007  5,353  2,913  2,002
May-2007  5,469  3,012  1,963
Jun-2007  5,267  2,912  1,836
Jul-2007  5,217  2,958  1,904
Aug-2007  5,358  3,023  2,029
Sep-2007  5,344  2,698  2,186
Oct-2007  5,398  2,933  2,005
Nov-2007  5,176  2,774  1,967
Dec-2007  5,119  2,763  1,923
Jan-2008  5,071  2,851  2,010
Feb-2008  5,077  2,866  1,990
Mar-2008  4,924  2,652  1,906
Apr-2008  4,948  2,840  1,957
May-2008  4,691  2,609  1,948
Jun-2008  4,893  2,597  2,153
Jul-2008  4,637  2,495  2,076
Aug-2008  4,682  2,452  2,185
Sep-2008  4,499  2,477  2,087
Oct-2008  4,548  2,352  2,253
Nov-2008  4,104  2,148  2,289
Dec-2008  4,348  2,081  2,497
Jan-2009  4,095  1,978  2,614
Feb-2009  4,061  1,945  2,590
Mar-2009  3,858  1,829  2,560
Apr-2009  3,888  1,713  2,651
May-2009  3,758  1,684  2,228
Jun-2009  3,639  1,686  2,242
Jul-2009  3,857  1,689  2,274
Aug-2009  3,810  1,561  2,113
Sep-2009  3,944  1,631  2,195
Oct-2009  3,838  1,663  2,028
Nov-2009  4,024  1,803  1,911
Dec-2009  4,004  1,758  2,045
Jan-2010  3,904  1,744  1,902
Feb-2010  3,864  1,834  1,817
Mar-2010  4,302  1,853  1,916
Apr-2010  4,159  1,898  1,744
May-2010  4,420  1,814  1,761
Jun-2010  4,111  1,911  2,061
Jul-2010  4,163  1,789  2,173
Aug-2010  4,046  1,852  1,886
Sep-2010  4,034  1,901  1,834
Oct-2010  4,173  1,848  1,746
Nov-2010  4,182  1,881  1,848
Dec-2010  4,299  1,968  1,865
Jan-2011  4,000  1,833  1,846
Feb-2011  4,231  1,952  1,748
Mar-2011  4,430  2,028  1,787
Apr-2011  4,296  1,883  1,787
May-2011  4,261  1,966  1,903
Jun-2011  4,366  1,923  1,926
Jul-2011  4,261  1,990  1,850
Aug-2011  4,298  2,043  1,842
Sep-2011  4,429  2,045  1,875
Oct-2011  4,370  2,000  1,796
Nov-2011  4,365  2,031  1,911
Dec-2011  4,356  1,975  1,811
Jan-2012  4,457  2,032  1,817
Feb-2012  4,560  2,123  1,896
Mar-2012  4,575  2,163  1,775
Apr-2012  4,389  2,136  1,868
May-2012  4,533  2,140  1,968
Jun-2012  4,440  2,151  1,883
Jul-2012  4,327  2,075  1,729
Aug-2012  4,450  2,080  1,889
Sep-2012  4,302  1,957  1,808
Oct-2012  4,389  2,037  1,897
Nov-2012  4,489  2,070  1,920
Dec-2012  4,452  2,045  1,708
Jan-2013  4,487  2,281  1,690
Feb-2013  4,571  2,281  1,655
Mar-2013  4,369  2,118  1,780
Apr-2013  4,572  2,297  1,786
May-2013  4,663  2,237  1,833
Jun-2013  4,440  2,203  1,755
Jul-2013  4,561  2,367  1,731
Aug-2013  4,730  2,331  1,814
Sep-2013  4,726  2,307  1,892
Oct-2013  4,518  2,374  1,681
Nov-2013  4,622  2,384  1,630
Dec-2013  4,614  2,281  1,774
Jan-2014  4,626  2,312  1,815
Feb-2014  4,696  2,401  1,758
Mar-2014  4,763  2,441  1,697
Apr-2014  4,880  2,476  1,752
May-2014  4,808  2,486  1,706
Jun-2014  4,925  2,506  1,753
Jul-2014  5,008  2,637  1,801
Aug-2014  4,810  2,564  1,698
Sep-2014  5,149  2,737  1,716
Oct-2014  5,111  2,721  1,844
Nov-2014  4,978  2,588  1,727
Dec-2014  5,192  2,543  1,860
Jan-2015  5,061  2,766  1,800
Feb-2015  5,127  2,731  1,746
Mar-2015  5,126  2,748  1,960
Apr-2015  5,196  2,706  1,848
May-2015  5,142  2,746  1,708
Jun-2015  5,125  2,756  1,813
Jul-2015  5,150  2,768  1,721
Aug-2015  5,163  2,888  1,773
Sep-2015  5,287  2,783  1,963
Oct-2015  5,338  2,814  1,852
Nov-2015  5,358  2,891  1,779
Dec-2015  5,540  3,043  1,804
Jan-2016  5,204  2,893  1,831
Feb-2016  5,559  2,997  1,926
Mar-2016  5,362  2,900  1,877
Apr-2016  5,277  2,954  1,774
May-2016  5,206  3,010  1,792
Jun-2016  5,277  2,988  1,733
Jul-2016  5,419  2,976  1,786
Aug-2016  5,301  3,007  1,827
Sep-2016  5,283  3,044  1,596
Oct-2016  5,234  3,078  1,636
Nov-2016  5,316  3,017  1,767
Dec-2016  5,380  2,986  1,718
Jan-2017  5,517  3,176  1,765
Feb-2017  5,366  3,081  1,698
Mar-2017  5,395  3,134  1,749
Apr-2017  5,265  3,034  1,704
May-2017  5,454  3,126  1,796
Jun-2017  5,642  3,157  1,958
Jul-2017  5,502  3,118  1,900
Aug-2017  5,528  3,134  1,866
Sep-2017  5,401  3,212  1,807
Oct-2017  5,635  3,193  1,819
Nov-2017  5,473  3,157  1,732
Dec-2017  5,426  3,222  1,736
Jan-2018  5,511  3,034  1,957
Feb-2018  5,669  3,175  1,781
Mar-2018  5,629  3,301  1,794
Apr-2018  5,587  3,373  1,729
May-2018  5,819  3,405  1,776
Jun-2018  5,783  3,389  1,807
Jul-2018  5,691  3,443  1,791
Aug-2018  5,792  3,446  1,796
Sep-2018  5,610  3,400  1,780
Oct-2018  5,855  3,485  1,830
Nov-2018  5,818  3,460  1,910
Dec-2018  5,762  3,415  1,832
Jan-2019  5,834  3,530  1,734
Feb-2019  5,703  3,541  1,791
Mar-2019  5,689  3,525  1,698
Apr-2019  6,000  3,492  1,950
May-2019  5,687  3,486  1,764
Jun-2019  5,760  3,481  1,763
Jul-2019  5,975  3,612  1,812
Aug-2019  5,839  3,544  1,792
Sep-2019  5,959  3,429  1,962
Oct-2019  5,757  3,442  1,778
Nov-2019  5,857  3,528  1,769
Dec-2019  5,927  3,528  1,893
Jan-2020  5,921  3,575  1,749
Feb-2020  5,864  3,436  1,846
Mar-2020  5,111  2,789  11,489
Apr-2020  4,047  1,877  7,708
May-2020  7,199  2,067  1,903
Jun-2020  6,970  2,605  1,995
Jul-2020  5,903  2,932  1,745
Aug-2020  5,919  2,793  1,473
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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.