Searching, Recalls, and Tightness: An Interim Report on the COVID Labor Market
We report on the state of the labor market six months into the COVID recession, focusing particularly on measuring market tightness. As we show using a simple model, tightness is crucial for understanding the relative importance of labor supply or demand side factors in job creation. In tight markets, worker search effort has a relatively larger impact on job creation, while employer profitability looms larger in slack markets. We measure tightness combining job seeker information from the CPS and vacancy postings from Burning Glass Technologies. To parse the former, we develop a taxonomy of the non-employed that identifies job seekers and excludes the large number of those on temporary layoff who are waiting to be recalled. With this taxonomy, we find that effective tightness has declined about 50\% since the onset of the epidemic to levels last seen in 2016, when labor markets generally appeared to be tight. Disaggregating market tightness, we find mismatch has starkly and surprisingly declined in the COVID recession. Despite low aggregate search, the sharp decline in tightness indicates a role for policies that impact profitability, i.e., labor demand. Further, while the level of tightness is high, relative to other recessionary periods, a large reserve of slackness sits among those who lost their jobs but are not currently searching for a range of COVID-related reasons.
The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research. This research was undertaken, in part, thanks to funding from the Canada Research Chairs Program.