The U.S. appears to be close to rounding the corner of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccination rates have increased substantially, and more businesses are back to semi-normal operations. However, with the unemployment rate over six percent and millions out of work, there is still a long way to go before the labor market fully recovers to pre-pandemic levels.
How are job seekers, particularly those who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, reacting to the 2021 job market so far? How are job seekers utilizing increased unemployment benefits under the latest stimulus bill? And how is the massive shift to working from home going now, a full year after it began? Over the past three months, we surveyed over 20,000 Joblist users from across the country to get a better understanding of today’s job market.
The pandemic’s disproportionate impact on the job prospects of women. A greater percentage of women than men are currently long-term unemployed (6+ months), reflecting how it has been harder for women on average to reenter the workforce following a COVID-related job loss. One contributing factor is the unequal burden of childcare responsibilities, as we find that women are two times more likely than men to be looking for a work-from-home job due to school closures or remote schooling.
Workers leave the hospitality industry behind. Even as hospitality jobs start to rebound, many workers in this industry are looking for opportunities elsewhere. More than 50% of hospitality workers who worked for a business that closed permanently during the pandemic have been unemployed for more than six months. As a result, 29% percent of hospitality workers are seeking to switch out of the industry permanently and into office, retail, or other roles.
Only a fraction of unemployed Americans actually receive benefits. Only 16% of unemployed job seekers reported receiving unemployment benefits in the last two weeks, and a majority had not even applied for benefits. In light of these findings, it’s clear that unemployment benefits are inaccessible for many and traditional unemployment metrics, such as weekly claims data from the Department of Labor, significantly undercount the true extent of unemployment caused by the pandemic.
Remote work is here to stay. Working from home remains popular with job seekers, even more so now than at the beginning of the pandemic. While work-from-home burnout is certainly occurring, it’s only for about one-quarter of remote workers. Most survey respondents (60%) said they were not looking forward to returning to their place of business post-pandemic. Looking to the future, a hybrid work model (partly in person, partly remote) is the most popular long-term option among current remote employees.
Raising the federal minimum wage is broadly popular. Although this is often discussed as a partisan issue, we found that 60% of American workers supported raising the federal minimum wage. This had majority support across all regions of the country, but was most popular in the Northeast (67%) and least popular in the Midwest (56%). Without a minimum wage increase, 55% of lower-wage workers said they would consider moving to a different state for a higher minimum wage.
Light at the end of the tunnel. Job seeker confidence has been steadily increasing since December and is at the highest level since Joblist began tracking this metric in July 2020. Most of the increase in our Job Seeker Confidence Index can be attributed to increased optimism due to vaccine rollout and improving economic conditions over the course of Q1.
The Pandemic’s Disproportionate Impact on Women
Women are more likely than men to work in lower-pay and face-to-face jobs, meaning that they have been particularly impacted by the pandemic’s mass layoffs and furloughs. And working mothers, who are often the primary caregivers in their families, have had to juggle work and childcare as schools and daycares closed. As a result, nearly three million American women have left the labor force completely in the last year, while millions more remain unemployed and struggling to reenter the workforce.
In our survey, we found that women are significantly more likely than men to be long-term unemployed 12 months into the pandemic. In fact, 48% of unemployed women have been out of work for six months or more, compared to only 40% of men. Based on these findings, not only have women been more susceptible to job losses during the pandemic, but also it is taking women longer on average to jump back into new jobs.
COVID-related school and daycare closures are a contributing factor that is placing an additional strain on women’s job searches. Interestingly, male and female job seekers responded in equal shares that they are looking for a new job due to COVID-related school and daycare closures or remote schooling. However, women are over twice as likely as men to say that they are looking specifically for work-from-home jobs due to childcare responsibilities, reflecting how this burden falls more on women than men on average.
Hospitality Workers Switch Industries
Out of all industries, the leisure and hospitality industry — which includes event venues, restaurants, bars, and hotels — has been the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to our survey, one-third of restaurant, bar, and hotel workers had their hours significantly reduced during the pandemic, and 30% of restaurant and bar employees worked for businesses that closed temporarily. While a smaller percentage of hospitality workers had the misfortune of working for a business that closed permanently, those who did have faced long-term consequences — more than 50% of hospitality workers who worked for a business that closed permanently during the pandemic have been unemployed for more than six months.
The pandemic’s impact on the hospitality industry has left many workers looking for alternate career paths. A full 29% of hospitality workers responded in a survey that they are looking to switch out of the industry due to the pandemic. For these workers, office jobs are the most popular type of new job that they are seeking, with 45% reporting they are looking for office work. Retail is second in popularity at 29%. Even as job opportunities in the hospitality industry are starting to rebound, many workers have already moved on, or are in the process of moving on, to other industries.
Most Unemployed Americans Do Not Receive Benefits
While the economy and job market continue to pick up, millions of Americans remain unemployed due to the pandemic. The federal government has responded by increasing and expanding unemployment benefits. However, unemployment insurance (UI) benefits are severely underutilized due to a lack of accessibility, and many job seekers are unaware of the extra UI benefits that the CARES Act provides.
In a recent survey of Joblist job seekers, only 16% of unemployed or furloughed job seekers reported receiving UI benefits in the last two weeks, and 59% of unemployed job seekers did not even apply for benefits. For the people who did not apply for benefits, lack of eligibility was the biggest reason why they did not apply. However, over a third of job seekers said that they did not want benefits and another 9% said that they were deterred from applying because the process seemed too difficult or complicated.
These survey findings show convincingly how traditional unemployment estimates, such as weekly UI claims data from the Department of Labor, severely undercount the number of people who are actually out of work. The true number of people who lost their jobs during the pandemic is many times the amount that ever received unemployment benefits in the last year.
Most unemployed job seekers report that they would not change their job seeking behavior — job search urgency, time spent job searching, or how selective they are about jobs — due to an increase in UI benefits. This runs counter to a popular talking point that unemployment benefits lead to complacency for recipients.
On the contrary, taking away bonus UI benefits would actually lead to much more negative, long-term outcomes for the unemployed. Nearly half of unemployed job seekers said that they would be more likely to accept a worse job than they would otherwise, apply to more jobs outside their industry or preferred location, or apply to jobs for which they’re overqualified if bonus UI benefits were taken away. In other words, a lack of benefits would force many to settle for subpar job options.
Remote Work is Here to Stay
Remote work has exploded during the pandemic. At one point last spring, over 40% of the U.S. labor force was working from home full-time. While many workers have gone back to the office at least some of the time, overall interest in working from home remains high. However, the level of interest varies among different subgroups of the population.
Women and younger job seekers in their 20s and 30s are the most likely group to say they’re interested in remote work. Older job seekers in their 60s and very young job seekers in their teens are the least interested in working from home. While the vaccine rollout has picked up substantially since the beginning of the year, some Joblist survey respondents reported increased interest in remote work due to the initial slow pace of the rollout. At the same time, other job seekers said they were less interested in working from home since in-person work would soon be safer.
Many workers have now been working from home for a full year. One notable downside is that, according to our survey, most of these workers (60%) took less vacation time last year than in prior years. Despite this, there is still a high-level of satisfaction with working from home, as remote workers on average reported enjoying working from home even more now than at the beginning of the pandemic. This reflects how many first-time remote workers have settled in and become even more comfortable with working from home over time.
While work-from-home burnout is certainly occurring, according to our survey, it’s only occurring for a quarter of remote workers. In fact, most survey respondents (60%) said they were not looking forward to returning to the office or their place of business post-pandemic.
Looking to the future, a hybrid work model (partly in person, partly remote) is the most popular option among remote employees. In our survey, 45% of remote workers preferred a hybrid model, 34% wanted to remain working from home full-time, and only 21% sought to return to the office full-time following the pandemic. While working from home can provide more flexibility, fewer interruptions, and no commute time, in-person work still offers some benefits that remote workers miss, including socializing with coworkers (54%), more separation between personal and professional life (45%), and in-office perks (19%). The hybrid model appears to be popular among remote workers as a way to create a “best-of-both-worlds” solution that combines the best aspects of remote and in-person work.
Raising the Minimum Wage
While the recently passed COVID relief bill did not include the $15 minimum wage hike that many people had hoped for, lawmakers are still trying to find a way forward for this initiative. The federal minimum wage stands at $7.25/hour and hasn’t been increased since 2009. Due to rising costs of living, minimum wage workers are worse off today than they were in 2008, before the last increase.
There is broad public support for raising the federal minimum wage to $10/hour or more. Sixty percent of Joblist survey respondents said that the federal minimum wage should be raised. Of these, 52% said they would like to see an increase to $15/hour, and 83% said they would like to see an increase to $10/hour or more.
Although the majority of people in every region of the country support raising the federal minimum wage, there is some regional variation in opinions. The difference in support is as much as 11 percentage points, with the strongest support in the Northeast (67%) and the weakest in the Midwest (56%). Currently, 29 states and D.C. have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage. Without a federal minimum wage increase, 55% of lower-wage workers would consider moving to a new state for a higher minimum wage. Interestingly, this percentage was relatively constant across all regions of the country.
The majority of Joblist survey respondents said that an increase in the minimum wage would improve their livelihood. A high percentage of these job seekers (77%) said that a minimum wage increase would assist in paying for monthly living expenses, and 52% responded that it would reduce overall stress. A large share of job seekers also said an increase would allow them to save more money or help pay off existing debt.
Job Seeker Confidence is Growing
Our measure of how job seekers feel about the job market each month — the Job Seeker Confidence Index — has been steadily increasing since December and is at the highest level (61.9) since Joblist began tracking this metric. This reflects how many employers are resuming normal operations and ramping up hiring as COVID-19 vaccinations become more widespread. Job seekers are responding to these signs of hope and have a brighter outlook for the future compared to in prior months.
Most of the increase in the Confidence Index can be attributed to job seekers’ increased level of optimism about whether the job market will improve in the following month. In March, 41% of Joblist survey respondents expected the job market to improve next month — up from 31% in January and 34% in February. Additionally, a smaller share of job seekers (18%) currently view the job market as “somewhat difficult” or “difficult” in March compared to January and February.
We surveyed 5,463 job seekers about their outlook on the job market and expectations for the future. We surveyed an additional 2,300 hospitality workers, 700 remote workers, 845 unemployed or furloughed job seekers about their specific experiences in the current market. Finally, we surveyed another 10,796 job seekers about a variety of topics, including COVID-related impacts on their job search, attitudes toward remote work, and opinions on changing the federal minimum wage.
All 20,104 survey respondents were Joblist users in the United States. The surveys were conducted over the course of January, February, and March 2021.
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. 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.
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.