Highlights:

  • Overall job growth continued into December, and at a higher rate than in the previous month.
  • For men, the Index increased again in December after declining in November.
  • The Welch Index for women continued to increase, but at a slower rate than in the previous three months.
  • Index levels–overall and by gender–remain lower than their pre-pandemic levels.

 

Introduction

The Welch Index is a data analytics tool used by our labor economists to measure full-time equivalent employment after adjustment for population growth and the aging of the workforce. An Index value of 100.0 indicates that the adjusted full-time equivalent employment level is the same as its level in the base period of July 2004.

Any decrease (or increase) in the Index value over a particular period indicates that full-time equivalent employment level has decreased (or increased) relative to the growth of the adult population during that period.

For example, over the past 12 months, the Index has fallen 5.6 points, from 103.2 to 97.6. This means that full-time equivalent employment levels increased at a rate 5.6% slower than the increase in the U.S. adult population over the past year (after making adjustments for the aging of the population).

Over the past three years, the overall Index value has declined by 3.2 points, or at an average rate of approximately 1.06 points per year.  This average rate of decline is an improvement relative to the rates of decline of the previous 2 months.

Given the onset of the pandemic and related lockdown measures, we find that the year 2020 has experienced the largest decline in employment levels, overall and by gender, of any of the last 3 years. In 2017, 2018 and 2019, the overall Welch Index actually increased between January and December by .8 points, 1.1 point and .9 points, respectively. In 2020, the Index declined by 5.7 points over the same period.

Looking by gender, we find that the Index for women is down 2.1 points, while the Index for men is down 4.1 points over the past three years.

Employment Recovery Continues at a higher pace in December

Employment levels have shown steady recovery this year since May, after a dramatic decline of 15.4 points between January and April.

The Welch Index experienced a slowdown in recovery in September, October, and November, compared to index levels in May and June, when lockdown restrictions had just begun to be lifted. In December, however, the Index increased at a higher rate compared to the previous three months. It rose by .3 points, from 97.3 points to 97.6 points.

With this continued recovery, the Index has reversed approximately 63% of its sharp decline in April. This reversal rate is approximately 2 percentage points higher than in November, 3 percentage points higher than in October, and 11 percentage points higher than in September.

Despite steady recovery over the past few months, the Welch Index remains at a lower level than in any of the previous three years.

Employment Levels Increase for Women and for Men in December

With the exception of a decline in November, the employment levels for men have been steadily increasing since May. In December, the Welch Index entirely offset the decline of the previous month by an increase of .3 points, from 94.5 in November to 94.8 in December.  With this increase, men have reversed over 59% their initial 13.8-point decline from January to April.

For women, the Welch Index declined slightly, by .1 point in September. Otherwise, and similar to the Index for men, the Index has been steadily recovering since May.

The pace of recovery, however, has been declining since September. The Welch Index for women rose by 1.7 points from September to October, but only by .5 points between October and November. As of December, their Index rose by .1, from 100.9 to 101.10.

As of December, the percentage of the initial 17.3 point decline that women had recovered increased slightly, from about 64% in November to about 65% as of December.

The difference in Index levels between women and men contracted, from 6.4 points in November to 6.2 points in December.  For both genders, December Index levels remained at lower than any of the December values over the previous three years.

Underlying Factors Behind the Trends and Concluding Remarks

With an increase in COVID-19 cases in December, states encouraged further restrictions on economic and social activity surrounding the holidays. As a result, our economic consulting experts find that employment recovery continues to be slower than what it was in earlier months of May and June. While most sectors have improved, Services and Tourism experienced a reduction in workforce. The differential gender distribution across these sectors likely explains the improved (or slowed) pace of recovery for men (or women) in December compared to rates in November.

Technical Note: Full-time equivalent employment equals full-time employment plus one half of part-time employment from the BLS household survey (the Current Population Survey). The data reported for a given month is generally from the calendar week that contains the 12th day of the month. The Welch Index adjusts for the changing age distribution of the population by fixing the age distribution of adults to the distribution in the base year of 2004. Seasonal effects for the share of workers employed in part-time jobs are removed in a regression framework using monthly indicator variables.

References:

COVID-19 Surge Ends Seven Months of U.S. Jobs Growth – WSJ

States Impose Strictest COVID-19 Lockdowns Since Spring – WSJ