I have been Commissioner of Labor Statistics for about a year and a half now, and what a time it has been! BLS has faced many challenges throughout its history, but none quite like those from the COVID-19 pandemic. All of our staff moved to full-time telework March 16, and I am so proud of how well they have worked under trying circumstances. In a very short time—days, not weeks—we had to change our data collection processes to eliminate in-person collection and move to a combination of telephone, internet, and video. We recognize how challenging it is for our survey respondents to provide data during the pandemic, and I am very grateful for their cooperation. Response rates have dipped a bit in some programs, but the quality of our samples remains strong across the board. Despite all of the challenges, BLS has been able to produce all of our economic reports without interruption.
The pandemic has taught us there’s an unlimited appetite for data. The U.S. statistical system is working to satisfy that appetite. At BLS, we strive for more and better data to understand the hardships caused by the pandemic. Starting in May we added new questions to our monthly survey of households. The questions ask whether people teleworked or worked from home because of the pandemic; whether people were unable to work because their employers closed or lost business; whether they were paid for that missed work; and whether the pandemic prevented job-seeking activities. We continue to gather new data from those questions.
We collaborated with our partners at other U.S. statistical agencies to find out how many people received payments from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020. For those who received payments, we asked how they used them.
Soon we will have new data about how businesses have responded to the pandemic. These data are from a brand new survey that seeks to identify changes to business operations, employment, workforce flexibilities, and benefits as a result of the pandemic.
These are just a few examples of how our data collection has responded to the pandemic. Good data are essential for identifying problems, guiding policymakers, and gauging whether and how fast conditions improve for workers, jobseekers, families, and businesses.
Labor Day is a good time to reflect on where we are. Despite these difficult times, I hope you are able to enjoy the long holiday weekend. Take a moment to look at some fast facts we’ve compiled on the current picture of our labor market.
Our monthly payroll survey shows that employment had been increasing through February 2020. With March came the pandemic and the job losses related to it. We lost more than 22 million jobs in March and April and then regained about 48 percent of them in May, June, July, and August.
The employment–population ratio was 56.5 percent in August. This ratio is the number of people employed as a percent of the population age 16 and older. The ratio was 61.1 percent in February.
There were 7.6 million people working part time for economic reasons in August 2020. These are people who would have preferred full-time employment but were working part time because their hours had been reduced or they were unable to find full-time jobs. This number was down from 10.9 million in April. The number was 4.3 million in February.
The unemployment rate reached 14.7 percent in April 2020. That was the highest rate, and the largest over-the-month increase, in the history of the data back to January 1948. The rate has fallen since then, reaching 8.4 percent in August. The rate was 3.5 percent back in February, the lowest since 1969.
We have noted the challenges of measuring unemployment during this pandemic. The rates we have seen since March likely understate unemployment, but the trend is clear. The rate rose sharply in March and even more sharply in April and has trended down since April.
Among the major worker groups in August 2020, the unemployment rate was 8.4 percent for adult women and 8.0 percent for adult men. The rate for teenagers was 16.1 percent. The unemployment rate was 13.0 percent for Blacks or African Americans, 10.7 percent for Asians, 10.5 percent for Hispanics or Latinos, and 7.3 percent for Whites.
On the last business day of June 2020, the number of nonfarm job openings was 5.9 million. That was a decline of 18 percent from June 2019.
The ratio of unemployed people per job opening was 3.0 in June 2020. Since the most recent peak of 4.6 in April 2020, the ratio of unemployed people per job opening declined in May and June. In February 2020, there was 0.8 unemployment person per job opening.
Pay and Benefits
Civilian compensation (wage and benefit) costs increased 2.7 percent in June 2020 from a year earlier. After adjusting for inflation, real compensation costs rose 2.1 percent over the year.
Paid leave benefits are available to most private industry workers. The access rates in March 2019 were 73 percent for sick leave, 79 percent for vacation, and 79 percent for holidays.
In March 2019, civilian workers with employer-provided medical plans paid 20 percent of the cost of medical care premiums for single coverage and 33 percent for family coverage.
Labor productivity—output per hour worked—in the U.S. nonfarm business sector grew 2.8 percent from the second quarter of 2019 to the second quarter of 2020. That increase reflects large pandemic-related declines in output (−11.2 percent) and hours worked (−13.6 percent).
Safety and Health
In 2018, there were 5,250 fatal workplace injuries. That was a 2-percent increase from 2017 and was the highest number of fatal work injuries in a decade. It was, however, below the numbers of workplace deaths in the 1990s, when over 6,000 fatalities occurred per year.
There were about 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported in 2018 by private industry employers. This resulted in an incidence rate of 2.8 cases per 100 full-time workers in 2018. The rate is down from 9.2 cases per 100 full-time workers in 1976.
The union membership rate—the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions—was 10.3 percent in 2019, down by 0.2 percentage point from 2018. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent.
Total employer compensation costs for private-industry union workers were $48.57 and for nonunion workers $34.16 per employee hour worked in March 2020. The cost of benefits accounted for 40.5 percent of total compensation (or $19.65) for union workers and 28.4 percent (or $9.71) for nonunion workers.
Looking to the Future
We released our latest set of long-term employment projections September 1. We project employment to grow by 6.0 million jobs from 2019 to 2029. That is an annual growth rate of 0.4 percent, slower than the 2009–19 annual growth rate of 1.3 percent. The healthcare and social assistance sector is projected to add the most new jobs, and 6 of the 10 fastest growing occupations are related to healthcare. These projections do not include impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts. We develop the projections using models based on historical data. The historical data for this set of projections cover the period through 2019, so all input data precede the pandemic. We will continue to examine the effects of the pandemic as we update our projections next year and the years that follow.
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