US and UK Labour Markets Before and During the Covid-19 Crash

Publication date: 23 Apr 2020 | Publication type: National Institute Economic Review | NIESR Author(s): Blanchflower, D; Bell, D | JEL Classification: J31, J60, J61 | Journal: National Institute Economic Review Issue 252 | Publisher: Cambridge University Press

We examine labour market performance in the US and the UK prior to the onset of the Covid-19 crash. We then track the changes that have occurred in the months and days from the beginning of March 2020 using what we call the Economics of Walking About (EWA) that shows a collapse twenty times faster and much deeper than the Great Recession. We examine unemployment insurance claims by state by day in the US as well as weekly national data. We track the distributional impact of the shock and show that already it is hitting the most vulnerable groups who are least able to work from home the hardest – the young, the least educated and minorities. We have no official labour market data for the UK past January but see evidence that job placements have fallen sharply. We report findings from an online poll fielded from 11–16 April 2020 showing that a third of workers in Canada and the US report that they have lost at least half of their income due to the Covid-19 crisis, compared with a quarter in the UK and 45 per cent in China. We estimate that the unemployment rate in the US is around 20 per cent in April. It is hard to know what it is in the UK given the paucity of data, but it has gone up a lot.