Job postings tell two different stories of recovery so far

On Friday morning, the Labor Department reported that U.S. employers added a robust 379,000 jobs for the month of February, the most since October.

This news comes after off two dismal months. In January, job growth was anemic, and in December, more than 200,000 jobs were actually lost.

And with roughly 10 million private sector and government jobs gone since the pandemic hit, American households really need strong, consistent job growth to make up for what’s been lost.

One place to look for signs of rebound is in the online job sites, which have become the “Help Wanted” ads of the digital age. 

The job site Indeed saw postings crash last spring, then slowly rebound. Indeed economist Jed Kolko said they’re now about 6% higher than pre-pandemic levels, and “being above last year’s baseline is certainly better than being below last year’s, but it doesn’t mean things are back to normal.”

The job postings are up 30% to 40% in occupations that have fared well during the pandemic. Kolko said those are “sectors that make and move stuff — manufacturing, driving, warehouse jobs, construction.”

But opportunities are still way down in hard-hit sectors like bars and restaurants; travel and tourism; and beauty and wellness. 

Heidi Shierholz, with the Economic Policy Institute, said she’s “actually quite optimistic” for unemployed workers in those fields, “that once the vaccine is widely distributed, we get the virus under control, a lot of those jobs will start coming back pretty quickly.”

But Shierholz expects we’re still in for several months of slow growth before the jobs recovery really gets rolling.