The direction of COVID-19 recovery: Did US shiftwork really grow in August?

Person confused over August COVID-19 shiftwork recovery numbers[''

Kronos continues to track the economic and shiftwork recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and with just a couple of days left in the month of August, average weekly shift growth at U.S. workplaces is hovering right at 1 percent.

This would be a positive development after shiftwork growth decreased from 2.7 percent per week in May and 1.9 percent per week in June, to just 0.7 percent per week in July. However, as is usually the case with statistics, the numbers don’t tell the entire story.

Regular employment cycles are inflating August shiftwork numbers

While a return to 1 percent shiftwork growth per week would be a step in the right direction, this figure is also slightly inflated. As Kronos noted earlier in the month, much of August’s growth is being driven by the public sector – in particular, K-12 and higher education – a small surge which takes place each August as schools of all types begin final preparations for the fall semester.

For example, shiftwork growth was 1.2 percent for the week ending August 23. However, when seasonally adjusted to account for education sector growth, it dips to 0.8 percent. Similarly, shiftwork increased 1.4 percent for the week ending August 16, yet 48 percent of that figure can be attributed to the education sector.

When adjusting for this inflated growth, we’re actually closer to repeating July’s 0.7 percent growth for a second straight month, which means the growth we’re seeing isn’t really there. It’s a mirage.

What's actually happening?

After anticipating a return to school all summer, we are seeing hourly employees return to schools just like they do every August.  We saw Public Sector employment lag over the summer and now it’s catching up to the rest of the hourly worker economy right on schedule.  However, it’s important to share because it means the “growth” we’ve seen over the last two weeks in particular isn’t sustainable growth. Once those employees are back to work, they’re back to work and the “growth” we’ve seen recently is likely to once again plateau.

While we’re eagerly looking forward to the arrival of Labor Day, when the inertia of the sleepy summer season is typically replaced by more robust economic activity, 2020 has been anything but typical, so we’ll continue to watch and analyze the data to help everyone understand what it’s really saying.

To learn more, you can read this week’s U.S. Workforce Activity Report by visiting