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The largest changes in payroll employment

Comparing April 2020's social distancing and August 1983's AT&T strike

The April 2020 changes in payroll employment are unprecedented in scale, but their nature is familiar.

The FRED graph above shows the monthly percentage change in payroll employment across all service-providing industries since 1939. Although the most recent reduction in leisure and hospitality employment (the red bar on the far right edge of the graph) has been the largest, both in magnitude and in proportion to the size of the industry’s labor force, we can compare it to a somewhat similar event: the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. union workers’ strike of August 1983 (the blue bars at the center of the graph).

Both reductions in employment were orchestrated: In 1983, the labor stoppage was to achieve better working conditions; in 2020, the labor stoppage has been to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The flip side of an organized labor stoppage is the organized nature of its recovery. In the case of the striking telephone workers, employment rebounded the following month. Alas, it’s too early to know if or when scaling back social distancing will produce a similar recovery in employment. Check FRED on June 5, 2020, at 8:30 AM (CST) to see the next changes in payroll employment.

How this graph was created: From FRED’s main page, browse data by “Release.” Search for “Employment Situation” and from “Release Tables” click on “Current Employment Statistics (Establishment Data).” From the table, select each of the nine industries in the private service-providing sector and click “Add to Graph.” From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Edit Line” tab to change the units to “Percent Change” and click “Copy to All.”

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CES4300000001, USEHS, USFIRE, USINFO, USLAH, USPBS, USSERV, USTRADE, USWTRADE

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