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COVID-19 and job posting trends

Labor market conditions often follow the movements of the business cycle: Demand for labor rises during an expansion and falls during a contraction. So it’s not surprising that the COVID-19 recession has had an impact on firms’ hiring decisions and job posting trends. What might be surprising, however, is how the pandemic has affected the availability of jobs at different income levels.

The FRED graph here shows the impact of the COVID-19 downturn on job postings: Specifically, it covers the indexed trends on Indeed.com for three different wage tiers. (A previous blog post has more information on these data, if you’re interested.)

Middle- and low-wage occupations saw steeper declines in job postings early in the pandemic, plunging by 41.6% and 40.4%, respectively. Job postings for high-wage occupations didn’t decline as much, but they also didn’t recover as quickly: As of November 6, high-wage job postings were 17.3% below the 2019 trend, compared with 8.5% below trend for low-wage occupations.

These differences in hiring trends suggest that policymakers should take heterogeneity in labor market dynamics into account as they try to foster employment opportunities in a post-pandemic recovery.

How this graph was created: Search for “job postings index” on FRED, and the series should be among the top choices. From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Add Line” tab to search for and select the other two series.

Suggested by Praew Grittayaphong and Paulina Restrepo-Echavarria.

View on FRED, series used in this post: IHLCHGHIGHUS, IHLCHGLOWUS, IHLCHGMIDDLEUS

Where retail sales have been booming

Sporting goods, home project supplies, and groceries are way up

We recently discussed how some areas in the retail sales sector have suffered dramatic declines during the pandemic. Today, we highlight three areas where sales have actually been booming.

FRED just added monthly state retail sales data from the Census Bureau, and we can enlist the help of GeoFRED to show the details. In the first map, we see that sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores have been doing remarkably well across the nation. From July 2019 to July 2020, national sales increased 18.7%, with a range of 7.7% to 29.1% across states. People have curtailed some activities during the pandemic, but they added new ones to spend their time on.

The second map shows building material and garden equipment stores, and it looks like people have ramped up their home projects. Nationwide, these sales increased 16.3%, with a range of 12.6% to 21.1% across almost all states, which is a remarkably tight spread. (We exclude our home state of Missouri, which had only a 4.6% increase.)

The third bright spot we focus on here is food and beverage stores. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may have expected this, since we’ve discussed how restaurant and bar sales have diminished as people have switched to consuming their food and drink at home. The map below shows how this shift has differed across states: from a 4.4% increase to a whooping 23.3% increase, which is remarkable for basic commodities. (One notable exception is a decline in Vermont.) Nationally, sales of food and beverages went up 13%. People may not have consumed much more than usual, but they did it differently—at home.

How these maps were created: A good starting point is the release table for monthly state retail sales. Click on a state series and then navigate below the graph to the related material, which includes a link to the GeoFRED map. (Or you could click on “View Map” on the graph and then “Edit Map”). Zoom-in or -out as you wish.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

Let’s talk turkey prices

...as well as prices in Turkey

If you know this blog, you may have been expecting a holiday-themed post this week. We did our best, but—spoiler alert—it’s a bait and switch. We don’t have any recent price data on turkey meat. What we do have are recent price data on meat in Turkey. And, as you can see from the FRED graph above, that nation suffers from chronically high price inflation. (FYI: FRED has over 2,000 series of Turkish data.)

This year, Thanksgiving is more challenging in the U.S. not just for travelers but also for statistical agencies. The data-collection process for many of the series available in FRED has been disrupted by the pandemic, as agencies scramble to change their procedures to accommodate health guidelines and changing economic practices.

One example is the price of turkeys, which is usually available in the consumer price index. The Bureau of Labor Statistics hasn’t been able to provide an update since March 2020. Until the data become available again, we’ll have to serve up something less traditional. But we remain thankful for all the work these statistical agencies do to collect the data to make sense of our economy and make progress in the face of national challenges.

How this graph was created: Search for “turkey CPI” and click on the relevant series. From the “Edit Graph” menu, use the “Add Line” tab to search for the other series. Then be sure the indexes for both series are set to 100 on the same date.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CP0112TRM086NEST, CUSR0000SAF112


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