New survey shows employment has remained steady since late April

A graph showing
Little change in the U.S. labor market has taken place since late April, according to a report by economists from Virginia Commonwealth University and Arizona State University. (Courtesy image)

There has been little change in the U.S. labor market since late April, according to a report by economists from Virginia Commonwealth University and Arizona State University.

“Employment was falling off the cliff at this point in April and unemployment was spiking, and we weren’t sure how bad things were going to get,” said Adam Blandin, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the VCU School of Business who conducts the biweekly Real-Time Population Survey with Alexander Bick, Ph.D., an associate professor of economics at Arizona State. “And reassuringly in the last few weeks, it looks like things have stabilized.” 

However, Blandin said, the flip side is that there has not been any recovery in employment or earnings since several states have begun to reopen their economies.

The survey results, reflecting the week of May 10-16, also suggest that while 55% of respondents believed that they could return to their old jobs once all work-from-home orders were lifted and all day care and school facilities were reopened, a large number of people were fairly confident that their job loss was permanent. 

Blandin and Bick started the Real-Time Population Survey out of a desire to use their skills as economists to help policymakers, reporters, analysts and the public during this pandemic. Since launch, their research has been cited widely in national publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Business Insider, Forbes, The New York Times and The Washington Post, and has drawn attention from notable economists worldwide.

The Real-Time Population Survey closely follows the methodology of the Labor Department’s Current Population Survey. Blandin and Bick have made improvements with each survey wave and plan to continue refining their methodology going forward. 

The survey suggests unprecedented changes in the U.S. labor market since mid-March. Among the key findings:

  • In the week of May 10-16, the employment rate was 52.1% among working-age adults, compared to 73.8% in the February Current Population Survey. While employment fell by 1.1 percentage points in the most recent wave, the decline was statistically insignificant.
  • The unemployment rate increased 1.8 percentage points since late April to 24.8%, while the labor force participation rate remained fairly flat (though well below its February level).
  • Most of those who have recently lost their job believe they could return to their old job if the economy were to reopen soon and in a safe manner. As economies have begun to reopen, the share who believe their recent job loss was permanent has declined while the share of those who are unsure has increased.
  • Among those who were employed in February, 43% have experienced a loss in earnings, including 16% who are still working but earning less. This number has been largely unchanged since the first survey in early April, highlighting the persistent negative effect of the pandemic not only on the share of individuals employed, but also on the earnings of those still employed.


The Real-Time Population Survey is conducted in collaboration with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. The results from this survey do not represent official forecasts or views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, its president, the Federal Reserve System or the Federal Open Market Committee.

Blandin and Bick plan to release the next wave of survey results on June 8, referencing the week of May 24-30. Subscribe to receive future results at https://sites.google.com/view/covid-rps/.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 30,000 students in 233 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Twenty-two of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, and MCV Physicians. The clinical enterprise includes a collaboration with Sheltering Arms Institute for physical rehabilitation services. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.