As we turn the corner into 2021, the job market remains highly difficult as millions of Americans are unemployed or underemployed due to COVID-19. How are job seekers reacting to this tough market? And what are their outlooks for finding new jobs in 2021? Over the past month, we surveyed over 10,000 Joblist users from across the country to get a better understanding.
- A difficult year. Overall, nearly 40% of all job seekers think their job prospects are worse now than at the beginning of 2020, while only 21% think their job prospects are better.
- Unequal impact of the pandemic. While the majority of unemployed job seekers report being worse off, about 70% of those that are full-time employed believe their job prospects are better or the same now than at the beginning of 2020.
- Mixed reactions to vaccine approvals. Only one-third of job seekers report feeling more optimistic about the 2021 job market due to vaccine approvals and 30% would not take a job with a company that mandated COVID-19 vaccination.
- New Year’s resolutions. The beginning of a new year is a natural time to reevaluate one’s current employment situation and set goals for the year ahead. For 2021, the two most popular resolutions for job seekers are to apply to more jobs (45%) and consider a career switch to a different role or industry (44%).
A Difficult Year
The U.S. started 2020 with a 3.6% unemployment rate in a very strong labor market. Now a full year later, the unemployment rate is nearly twice as high. Many are struggling, and it remains difficult to find new jobs across almost every industry.
In a recent survey, we found that 80% of job seekers report that their job prospects were worse or the same at the end of 2020 compared to the beginning of the year. Nearly 40% of job seekers think their job prospects are worse, while only 21% of job seekers think their job prospects are better. Whereas in previous years we would have expected a much higher percentage to benefit from a growing economy and strong job market, only a fraction of job seekers were able to achieve that during this difficult year.
For job seekers who reported worse job prospects, many are likely much worse off. Average unemployment duration and the share of long-term unemployed workers have been steadily increasing since the spring, and BLS data shows that long-term unemployed workers now account for 37% of all unemployed workers. During this stage of the pandemic, we are seeing that it is becoming increasingly difficult for unemployed workers to find new jobs. As a result, 68% of long-term unemployed workers on Joblist report feeling financially insecure.
Conversely, full-time workers who are fortunate enough to still be employed have been significantly less impacted. About 70% of full-time employed job seekers believe their job prospects are better or at least the same now than at the beginning of 2020, compared to just half of unemployed ones. This highlights how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted certain groups of job seekers relative to others.
Although the COVID-19 situation remains urgent across the country, we enter the new year with some light at the end of the tunnel. Over five million Americans have been given their first dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to date, and public health experts hope that herd immunity is possible by the fall.
Despite these glimmers of hope, job seekers are entering 2021 with a fair amount of pessimism. In a recent survey of Joblist job seekers, about half think that it will actually be more difficult to find a job in 2021 than in 2020 and only 21% of job seekers think it will be easier. Given how difficult a year 2020 was for job searching, it’s pretty astounding that the majority of job seekers are expecting that 2021 will be even worse.
Job seekers are very split on how the COVID vaccine approvals have impacted their view of the job market. Only about one-third report feeling more optimistic about the 2021 job market due to the vaccine approvals, while one-third are not more optimistic, and the final third are uncertain. Although this could change, vaccine approvals do not yet seem to be making the bulk of job seekers feel encouraged about the future of the market.
Job seeker views on potential vaccine mandates by employers are also very mixed. A sizable proportion of job seekers (30%) would not take a job with a company that mandated COVID vaccination. Interestingly, this did not differ between employed and unemployed job seekers.
New Year’s Resolutions
As hiring picks up again after the holiday season, January can be an excellent time to look for a new role. Many job seekers are ready to begin the new year with new expectations, goals, and feelings of hope and determination. Making job search-related New Year’s resolutions is a perfect way to commit to actions that will promote a successful job hunt.
In a recent survey on Joblist, the most common job search-related New Year’s resolutions are to apply to more jobs (45%) and consider new industries and job roles (44%). Dedicating more time to job searching (31%) and learning a new skill or earning a certification (29%) were also common resolutions. Interestingly, unemployed job seekers are more likely to report that they plan to apply to more jobs while employed job seekers are more likely to say they will consider new industries and job roles.
Despite a difficult year filled with challenges, there were some silver linings in the unique 2020 job market. Job seekers embraced several new job market features that became commonplace during the pandemic and expressed interest in seeing these trends persist next year and beyond. In our survey, over 40% of job seekers said they would like to continue to see more remote jobs in the future. And while virtual job fairs and interviews may seem less than ideal for many, a full quarter of job seekers would like to see these continue into 2021 as well.
Job Seeker Confidence
It’s still a very difficult job market, but Joblist users report some slight improvements in the past month. In comparison to November, job seekers in December perceived the job market as slightly less difficult. 51% now say getting a job is “somewhat difficult” or “very difficult” (vs. 53% in November), while 18% describe the job market as “very easy” or “somewhat easy” (vs. 16% in November).
Job seekers are also more optimistic about the trajectory of the job market than they were last month. 30% of job seekers now expect the job market to improve next month, compared to 27% of job seekers in November. Uncertainty about the job market remains unchanged, with exactly 29% saying they are unsure whether the job market will improve in each of the last two months.
Our measure of how job seekers feel about the job market each month — the Job Seeker Confidence Index — now stands at 56.7. This represents an increase of several points from last month, indicating that job seekers are feeling slightly better about the job market. While an improvement over November, it remains lower than the levels seen in August through October.
A Confidence Index of 80 or more would denote a very high degree of job seeker confidence, whereas a Confidence Index of 25 or less would denote an extremely low degree of job seeker confidence. Job seeker confidence has remained squarely in the middle of these extremes throughout the pandemic.
We surveyed 5,003 job seekers about their outlook on the job market and expectations for the future. We also surveyed an additional 5,004 job seekers about their current job prospects, optimism surrounding vaccine approvals, and New Year’s resolutions.
All 10,007 survey respondents were Joblist users in the United States. The surveys were conducted over the course of December 2020.
This data has not been weighted, and it comes with some limitations. All of the information in this study relies on self-reporting. With self-reporting, respondents may overreport or underreport their answers and feelings to the questions provided.
The Joblist Job Seeker Confidence Index was created from several survey questions — how difficult job seekers perceive the market to be, how long they expect it will take to find a new job, and how optimistic they are about the future of the job market. Survey responses were rescaled and averaged to create a composite index.
Fair Use Statement
It’s difficult to predict exactly what the future will hold, but we hope this data helps paint a more vivid representation of the job market in America today. Share these findings with your readers for any noncommercial use by including a link back to this page so they have full access to our methodology and results.
At Joblist, we know every job search is different. Helping you find the right job means surfacing results tailored to your experience, industry, and job priorities. Whether you’re a recent graduate, unemployed due to COVID-19, or looking for a remote-work opportunity that will let you keep your home office, Joblist will curate personalized matches based on criteria that you define. Even better, you're not alone in the process — Joblist enables you to share the list of jobs you're interested in with your friends, family, and others in your network so that they can also participate in your job search.