Summer doldrums settle over US jobs recovery

Man in hot car summer doldrums US workforce activity stall concept

Seasonal fluctuations in the U.S. workforce that typically occur every summer, coupled with the omnipresent COVID-19, have conspired to essentially stall the U.S. jobs recovery during the month of July.

Since the week ending June 28th, total shift work volume among the 3.2 million employees tracked in the Kronos Workforce Activity Report has increased just 1 percent. That is a stark contrast to the 2.7 percent average weekly growth rate shifts experienced in May and the 1.9 percent average weekly growth rate shifts experienced in June. As of the week ending July 26th, the average weekly growth rate sits at 0.6 percent.

The first shift work declines since April

This past week, total shift volume actually declined by 1.1 percent, marking the first non-holiday week drop in shift work since the week ending April 12, which we recognized as “the bottom” for shift work during the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of shifts being worked dropped 36 percent between the weeks ending March 15 and April 12 as the U.S. began to grapple with COVID-19. Shift work had grown every week since – the exceptions being the weeks of Memorial Day and July 4th, which declined as anticipated mirroring past years' trends during these holidays.

While it appears we’ve hit the forecasted summer plateau that we’ve been talking about for about a month now, next week’s Workforce Activity Report will be especially significant. It will be the final report to be issued before the July jobs report is released by the Department of Labor.

Highlights from this week's Workforce Activity Report

As we economists try to anticipate what that the unemployment rate will be in the next DOL report, here are two stats to think about this week:

  • 3: The number of industries that are stuck hovering between -12 percent and -13 percent in their recovery relative to pre-pandemic norms. This includes manufacturing, retail, and services and distribution. Each experienced a different rate of decline during the initial days of the pandemic, and this grouping is further indicative of a plateau in their recovery.
  • -15: The Northeast and Southeast are both down approximately 15 percent from pre-pandemic shift levels despite also experiencing different rates of declines from mid-March to mid-April, also reinforcing our diagnosis of a plateau.

You can read more about these stats and the other key trends we're watching in this week's Kronos Workforce Activity Report.

See the full report