The enormous increase in remote work that occurred during the pandemic was a response to a temporary public health crisis. Now that the pandemic has passed, just how much remote work will persist and how much are businesses comfortable with? Results from our August regional business surveys indicate that more than 20 percent of all service work and 4 percent of all manufacturing work is currently being done remotely, nearly identical to what was reported a year ago, and this amount of remote work is expected to persist in the year ahead. However, on average, service sector businesses would prefer that about 15 percent of work be done remotely. Indeed, nearly a quarter of service firms have increased requirements for employees to work on-site over the past year and about one in six plan to make further adjustments toward in-person work next year. Ultimately, the degree and persistence of remote work will largely depend on the tightness of the labor market, as businesses report that while remote work does have its downsides, it has been particularly helpful for attracting and retaining workers.
Though some offices have re-opened as the pandemic has receded, many workers have continued to work from home. Recent survey data suggest that workers would like more remote-work days than firms want to supply—a pattern that was evident even before the pandemic. Why have firms been so reluctant to offer remote work? And what will the recent seismic shift in remote work mean for the economy?
Job gains exceeded output growth in 2022, bringing GDP per worker back down to its trend level after being well above for an extended period. Employment is consequently set to grow slower than output going forward, as it typically does. Breaking down the GDP per worker by industry, though, shows a significant divergence between the services and goods-producing sectors. Productivity in the services sector was modestly above its pre-pandemic path at the end of last year, suggesting room for relatively strong employment growth, with the gap particularly large in the health care, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality sectors. Productivity in goods-producing industries, though, was depressed, implying that payroll growth is set to lag that sector’s GDP growth.
When COVID-19 first struck the U.S. in early 2020, New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic. By early April, there was an unthinkable scale of suffering, with massive hospitalizations and roughly 800 fatalities per day, accounting for nearly half of the nationwide total. The rapid spread was facilitated by the city’s extraordinarily high population density and widespread use of mass transit. What followed was a quick and massive shutdown of restaurants, retail stores, personal services, offices, and more. And the shutdowns, of course, led to widespread job losses. Between February and May, one out of five jobs in the city vanished; in the restaurant industry, 70 percent of jobs were lost. Although the pandemic didn’t go away, the city’s economy has recovered steadily, aside from a brief but sharp setback in late 2020. By early 2023, New York had finally reversed just about all of the total job loss. In this post, we look at the contours of the city’s recovery as a possible guide to where we go from here.
The tri-state region’s economy was hit especially hard by the pandemic, but three years on, is close to recovering the jobs that were lost. Indeed, employment initially fell by 20 percent in New York City as the pandemic took hold, a significantly sharper decline than for the nation as a whole, and the rest of the region experienced similar declines, creating a much larger hole than in other parts of the country. Three years later, the recovery has been uneven: Recent job growth has been particularly strong in New York City, where employment remains just slightly below pre-pandemic levels, and in Northern New Jersey, which has more than recovered all of the jobs lost early in the pandemic. But it has been sluggish in downstate New York outside of New York City, and in upstate New York, and employment across the region has clearly not reached the level implied by pre-pandemic trends. A dearth of available workers remains a significant constraint on growth in the region, particularly in upstate New York, which had already been suffering from a lack of workers well before the pandemic began
The U.S. labor force participation rate (LFPR) currently stands at 62.5 percent, 0.8 percentage point below its level in February 2020. This “participation gap” translates into 2.1 million workers out of the labor force. In this post, we evaluate three potential drivers of the gap: First, population aging from the baby boomers reaching retirement age puts downward pressure on participation. Second, the share of individuals of retirement age that are actually retired has risen since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, long COVID and disability more generally may induce more people to leave the labor force. We find that nearly all of the participation gap can be explained by population aging, which caused a significant rise in the number of retirements. Higher retirement rates compared to pre-COVID have had only a modest effect, while disability has virtually no effect.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s November 2022 SCE Labor Market Survey shows a rise in the average reservation wage—the lowest wage respondents would be willing to accept for a new job—to $73,667, its highest level since the series began in 2014. Respondents’ satisfaction with wage compensation, non-wage benefits, and promotion opportunities at their current job all improved in November compared to July. Regarding expectations, the average expected wage offer (conditional on receiving one) also increased and reached a new high.
Although most of those infected with COVID-19 have recovered relatively quickly, a substantial share has not, and remains symptomatic months or even years later, in what is commonly referred to as long COVID. Data on the incidence of long COVID is scarce, but recent Census Bureau data suggest that sixteen million working age Americans suffer from it. The economic costs of long COVID is estimated to be in the trillions. While many with long COVID have dropped out of the labor force because they can no longer work, many others appear to be working despite having disabilities related to the disease. Indeed, there has been an increase of around 1.7 million disabled persons in the U.S. since the pandemic began, and there are close to one million newly disabled workers. These disabled workers can benefit from workplace accommodations to help them remain productive and stay on the job, particularly as the majority deal with fatigue and brain fog, the hallmarks of long COVID.
Racial and ethnic earnings disparities have been salient features of the U.S. economy for decades. Between the pandemic-driven recession in 2020 and the rising inflation since 2021, workers’ real and nominal earnings have seen rapid change. To get a sense of how recent economic conditions have affected earnings disparities, we examine real and nominal weekly earnings trends for Asian, Black, Hispanic, and white workers. We find that average real weekly earnings have been declining in the past year, but less so for Black and Hispanic workers than for white and Asian workers. Black and Hispanic workers have also experienced small increases in real earnings since the pre-pandemic period.
The recovery since the onset of the pandemic has been characterized by a tight labor market and rising nominal wage growth. In this post, we look at labor market conditions from a more granular, sectoral point of view focusing on data covering the nine major industries. This breakdown is motivated by the exceptionality of the pandemic episode, the way it has asymmetrically affected sectors of the economy, and by the possibility of exploiting sectoral heterogeneities to understand the drivers of recent labor market dynamics. We document that wage pressures are highest in the sectors with the largest employment shortfall relative to their pre-pandemic trend path, but that other factors explain most of the wage growth differentials. We suggest that one key factor is the extent of physical contact that has had to be compensated for by offering higher wages. One implication of our analysis is that, as COVID-related factors recede, sectoral imbalances could be restored from the supply side as employment recovers back toward the pre-pandemic trend.