Has our COVID-19 economic recovery topped out?

Slow sign COVID-19 recovery plateau in US

There’s a question that’s been on my mind: has the U.S. economic recovery from COVID-19 finally topped out? Has it reached a plateau? This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about since our team started analyzing and preparing the Kronos U.S. Workforce Activity Report for July 13-19.

Let's look at the case from both sides.

Balancing shift growth slowdowns against holiday impacts

On the one hand, U.S shift growth is clearly slowing down. In May, shift growth averaged 2.7 percent per week. In June, it was 1.9 percent per week. For July, shift growth is averaging a paltry 0.7 percent per week.  The Southeast, in particular, is concerning. While the Northeast has grown shift volume 4.8 percent between June 22 and July 19, the Southeast has actually contracted, declining 0.28 percent during that time frame.

On the other hand, the Fourth of July fell on a Saturday this year. That means the federal holiday was recognized on Friday, July 3. We knew and fully expected shift work volume would dip the week of June 29 to July 5. This is a trend we see every year and with every major holiday on the calendar. However, unlike other years and unlike other holidays, shift work volume did not bounce back fully the following week. It could simply be that more people took vacations (or, more aptly, staycations) and that businesses had planned accordingly by scheduling fewer shifts.

Still, at Kronos, we preach the value of data-driven decision making. It’s okay to trust your gut and use anecdotal observation to reach your conclusion – after all, data doesn’t always tell the whole story, especially with something as complex as human capital – but it’s also hard to argue with the clear and obvious deceleration in shift work growth.

As you review this week’s report, I’d encourage you to simply consider this: the U.S. economy has recovered 64 percent of the shifts that were lost between the weeks ending March 15 and April 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If we’re going to get back to a pre-pandemic economy, shift work is going to need to grow a lot faster than 0.7 percent per week.

Highlights from this week's Workforce Activity Report

Here are three more stats for this week that you may want to know about:

  • 4: The number of states and territories where shift worked dipped week-over-week – Alabama, Alaska, the District of Columbia, and Louisiana
  • 13: U.S. shift work remains 13 percent below pre-pandemic levels
  • 63: Average weekly shift growth has declined 63 percent from June (1.9 percent average growth per week) to July (0.7 percent average growth per week)

If you'd like to get all the details on the latest workforce trends we're seeing, we invite you to take a look at this week's Workforce Activity Report and the archived reports from previous weeks at kronos.com/usworkforceactivity.