COVID-19 Employment Study

American Employment and the Pandemic: COVID-19 Cases and Job Recovery by State and Political Affiliation

The United States is still missing 5.3 million jobs lost at the start of the pandemic. MoneyGeek's analysis of jobs by state explores which have recovered the most and which are struggling to reach pre-pandemic jobs numbers.

By  
  |  

COVID-19 has led to stunning economic disruption. Through multiple waves of infection, including Delta variant driving the most recent surges in cases, some states have struggled to find public health measures that balance job growth with preserving public safety.

While many businesses have reopened since the early days of the pandemic, 5.3 million jobs are still missing. MoneyGeek analyzed employment and COVID-19 case data by state to find which states recovered the most jobs and what measures correlated with their success.

Summary Findings:

  • Fourteen states have fully recovered jobs lost since the beginning of the pandemic and have jobs numbers higher than they did in February 2020. On average, the U.S. is 3% below pre-pandemic employment levels, with Hawaii and Nevada still missing 9% of jobs.
  • Blue states grew jobs 37% faster than red states as of July 2021. When vaccines became widely available from April to July, blue states increased their jobs twice as quickly as red states.
  • Due to the timing of jobs data releases, it’s too early to tell if removing expanded unemployment insurance drove job creation.

How Political Affiliation Affected COVID-19 Cases and Job Recovery

To understand how economic recovery and public health influenced each other in 2021, MoneyGeek analyzed the rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths and how they related to jobs recovered in every state. MoneyGeek divided states based on their political leaning to see if there were any meaningful differences in COVID-19 cases and deaths compared to job recovery. See the methodology section of this analysis for our criteria for determining red and blue states.

2021 Analysis: Blue States Had More Job Growth and Fewer Cases

MoneyGeek’s 2021 analysis found that blue states had a 37% faster job growth rate than red states from January 2021 to July 2021. Job growth between red and blue states was comparable until April when vaccines became more widely available. Since then, blue states have increased their jobs at double the rate of red states.

Red states had nearly three times the rate of COVID-19 cases per job added than blue states. For every job added to the economy, red states had 3.5 COVID-19 cases, while blue states had 1.3 cases.

As of July 2021, red and blue states recovered the same percentage of jobs lost since the April 2020 low. However, blue states lost more jobs than red states at the start of the pandemic, making it more difficult for them to recover jobs to pre-pandemic levels.

MoneyGeek also analyzed the number of new COVID-19 cases per job recovered for each individual state. The table below data shows our analysis for each state, as well as the state's political affiliation.

Based on our analysis, Ohio — a red state — had the highest number of COVID-19 cases per job recovered, while Maine — a blue state — had the lowest. Ohio also had the highest number of COVID-19 deaths per job gained.

Political Party, Jobs Recovered and Deaths per Job by State
State
Political Party Voting History
Cases per 100 Jobs Added (2021)
Deaths per 10,000 Jobs Added (2021)
Job Growth (2021)

Alabama

Red

1,170

843

0.6%

Alaska

Red

235

80

3.0%

Arizona

Red

187

194

2.6%

Arkansas

Red

425

422

2.1%

California

Blue

82

41

4.5%

Colorado

Blue

311

185

1.8%

Connecticut

Blue

197

109

2.4%

Delaware

Blue

285

321

2.0%

District Of Columbia

Blue

68

50

4.5%

Florida

Red

224

153

5.6%

Georgia

Red

205

209

3.1%

Hawaii

Blue

227

82

2.0%

Idaho

Red

146

126

3.2%

Illinois

Blue

95

88

5.4%

Indiana

Red

475

351

1.0%

Iowa

Red

84

62

4.2%

Kansas

Red

197

182

2.2%

Kentucky

Red

334

173

2.0%

Louisiana

Red

359

307

3.4%

Maine

Blue

59

39

7.4%

Maryland

Blue

73

83

4.5%

Massachusetts

Blue

122

72

3.6%

Michigan

Blue

240

288

3.1%

Minnesota

Blue

126

81

4.0%

Mississippi

Red

507

416

2.0%

Missouri

Red

203

173

3.2%

Montana

Red

66

92

6.6%

Nebraska

Red

111

42

3.3%

Nevada

Blue

420

541

1.4%

New Hampshire

Blue

280

162

1.3%

New Jersey

Blue

180

159

3.4%

New Mexico

Blue

216

162

2.1%

New York

Blue

71

36

4.4%

North Carolina

Red

198

102

3.0%

North Dakota

Red

75

46

5.1%

Ohio

Red

1,430

1,493

0.3%

Oklahoma

Red

246

171

2.2%

Oregon

Blue

92

61

5.6%

Pennsylvania

Blue

158

150

3.4%

Rhode Island

Blue

223

94

2.7%

South Carolina

Red

135

92

5.4%

South Dakota

Red

74

59

4.6%

Tennessee

Red

308

188

2.2%

Texas

Red

222

158

2.6%

Utah

Red

179

107

2.7%

Vermont

Blue

69

23

4.8%

Virginia

Blue

94

85

4.1%

Washington

Blue

102

61

5.2%

West Virginia

Red

127

90

5.0%

Wisconsin

Blue

68

76

4.9%

Wyoming

Red

213

170

2.9%

2020 Analysis: Blue and Red States Had Comparable Job Growth and Cases

In a July 2020 analysis, MoneyGeek found that red states recovered 35% more jobs than blue states — 65% compared to 48%. However, red-state recovery rates came at a higher cost to public health, with 99% more COVID-19 cases and 78% more deaths per recovered job than blue states.

When looking at data from April to December 2020, we found that jobs recovered for red and blue states were comparable (12% versus 11%, respectively). We also found that cases and deaths per job recovered were similar for blue and red states. Based on these findings, it seems that the red and blue states’ approaches to the pandemic didn’t yield meaningful differences in job growth and COVID-19 cases during the latter part of 2020.

Did Ending Extended Unemployment Benefits Grow Jobs Faster?

​​On May 4, 2021, Governor Gianforte of Montana announced the end of expanded unemployment benefits in the state, along with return-to-work bonuses for those going back to work. Since then, 25 other states have ended their extended unemployment benefits early. Initially, unemployment benefits were set to expire between June 12 and July 10. For the rest of the nation, extended unemployment benefits ended in September.

Our analysis of job growth shows limited support that the early end of extended unemployment impacted jobs numbers in July 2021.

The 21 states that ended extended unemployment benefits by June 30 grew jobs by 1.2% from May to July. States that didn't end extended unemployment until September increased jobs by 1.3% from June to July. Based on these results, there isn't enough evidence to indicate that one policy approach has been more successful than the other.

14 States Recovered Jobs to Pre-Pandemic Levels

MoneyGeek’s July 2021 analysis found that 14 states fully recovered to jobs levels above those in February of 2020, the month before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Led by South Dakota, these 14 states had lower initial job losses than many others, which may have contributed to their relatively quick recoveries.

States That Recovered the Most Jobs to Date
State
Jobs Recovered (Low to Jul '21)
% of Lost Jobs Recovered
Lost Jobs (Feb '20 to Low)
Recovered Jobs as % of Feb '20

South Dakota

44,166

186%

-23,753

9.9%

Montana

58,013

127%

-45,747

11.2%

Idaho

117,822

123%

-95,532

13.6%

Utah

180,167

121%

-148,842

11.3%

Oregon

317,669

120%

-263,675

15.6%

Wisconsin

455,687

119%

-382,185

15.4%

South Carolina

253,187

117%

-216,259

11.0%

North Dakota

26,332

111%

-23,636

6.7%

Alaska

35,784

108%

-33,131

10.8%

Wyoming

12,436

108%

-11,534

4.4%

Oklahoma

233,684

107%

-218,046

13.0%

Kansas

174,489

106%

-163,851

12.0%

West Virginia

119,654

104%

-114,516

15.8%

Missouri

374,580

102%

-368,117

12.6%

Nebraska

41,275

99%

-41,512

4.1%

Maine

82,548

99%

-83,178

12.3%

Mississippi

179,112

98%

-182,692

14.8%

Tennessee

529,381

97%

-545,507

16.5%

Florida

1,731,422

96%

-1,811,311

17.0%

Arizona

387,618

94%

-410,758

11.3%

Indiana

543,002

94%

-576,939

16.7%

Georgia

656,414

92%

-711,096

13.0%

Washington

454,759

92%

-493,114

11.9%

Alabama

251,682

92%

-275,029

11.6%

Arkansas

72,025

89%

-81,271

5.5%

New Hampshire

124,076

88%

-140,202

16.5%

Delaware

54,749

87%

-62,588

11.6%

Massachusetts

706,107

87%

-808,199

19.4%

Michigan

1,103,748

87%

-1,274,626

23.3%

North Carolina

770,400

86%

-891,318

15.6%

Colorado

404,830

86%

-472,937

13.2%

Texas

1,713,172

80%

-2,133,618

12.4%

Minnesota

220,933

79%

-279,948

7.4%

Illinois

883,751

78%

-1,127,748

14.4%

Ohio

760,599

77%

-989,925

13.6%

New York

1,315,587

75%

-1,757,121

14.4%

Nevada

371,832

74%

-505,150

23.9%

Pennsylvania

686,643

72%

-948,747

11.1%

District of Columbia

30,988

71%

-43,747

7.7%

Rhode Island

65,132

68%

-95,126

12.1%

California

2,151,624

68%

-3,162,419

11.5%

Louisiana

191,088

68%

-281,173

9.3%

Kentucky

170,160

67%

-252,348

8.6%

New Mexico

68,279

67%

-102,124

7.4%

New Jersey

448,974

64%

-704,975

10.2%

Hawaii

106,294

63%

-167,752

16.0%

Iowa

98,320

60%

-164,267

5.9%

Connecticut

162,562

56%

-290,406

8.9%

Maryland

214,277

56%

-383,621

6.7%

Virginia

251,996

55%

-461,621

5.8%

Vermont

18,473

48%

-38,107

5.5%

Nevada and Hawaii Have the Most Jobs Still Missing

Despite continued job recovery since April 2020, the United States is still missing 5.3 million jobs lost since February 2020. Nevada and Hawaii — both heavily dependent on the leisure and hospitality industries — remain the least recovered states in the nation for employment.

States From Most to Least Jobs Lost as of July 2021
State
% Jobs Lost (Feb '20 to Jul)
Jobs Lost (Feb '20 to Jul)
Jul Jobs
Feb '20 Jobs

Hawaii

-9.3%

-61,458

602,621

664,079

Nevada

-8.6%

-133,318

1,420,588

1,553,906

Connecticut

-7.0%

-127,844

1,708,272

1,836,116

Vermont

-5.9%

-19,634

314,592

334,226

New Jersey

-5.8%

-256,001

4,158,656

4,414,657

Rhode Island

-5.6%

-29,994

508,387

538,381

California

-5.4%

-1,010,795

17,659,070

18,669,865

Maryland

-5.3%

-169,344

3,013,126

3,182,470

New York

-4.8%

-441,534

8,688,431

9,129,965

Virginia

-4.8%

-209,625

4,140,764

4,350,389

Louisiana

-4.4%

-90,085

1,957,757

2,047,842

Pennsylvania

-4.2%

-262,104

5,937,814

6,199,918

Kentucky

-4.1%

-82,188

1,900,637

1,982,825

Ohio

-4.1%

-229,326

5,360,766

5,590,092

Illinois

-4.0%

-243,997

5,878,070

6,122,067

Iowa

-3.9%

-65,947

1,614,650

1,680,597

New Mexico

-3.7%

-33,845

883,734

917,579

Michigan

-3.6%

-170,878

4,563,103

4,733,981

District of Columbia

-3.2%

-12,759

391,835

404,594

Texas

-3.1%

-420,446

13,340,757

13,761,203

Massachusetts

-2.8%

-102,092

3,538,849

3,640,941

North Carolina

-2.4%

-120,918

4,817,155

4,938,073

Colorado

-2.2%

-68,107

3,003,917

3,072,024

New Hampshire

-2.1%

-16,126

734,637

750,763

Minnesota

-2.0%

-59,015

2,946,645

3,005,660

Delaware

-1.7%

-7,839

465,367

473,206

Georgia

-1.1%

-54,682

5,004,211

5,058,893

Alabama

-1.1%

-23,347

2,151,139

2,174,486

Indiana

-1.0%

-33,937

3,212,272

3,246,209

Washington

-1.0%

-38,355

3,772,309

3,810,664

Florida

-0.8%

-79,889

10,100,431

10,180,320

Arkansas

-0.7%

-9,246

1,306,833

1,316,079

Arizona

-0.7%

-23,140

3,411,018

3,434,158

Tennessee

-0.5%

-16,126

3,197,749

3,213,875

Mississippi

-0.3%

-3,580

1,205,767

1,209,347

Maine

-0.1%

-630

668,041

668,671

Nebraska

0.0%

-237

1,012,440

1,012,677

Missouri

0.2%

6,463

2,980,167

2,973,704

Wyoming

0.3%

902

283,827

282,925

West Virginia

0.7%

5,138

763,983

758,845

North Dakota

0.7%

2,696

396,475

393,779

Kansas

0.7%

10,638

1,466,121

1,455,483

Alaska

0.8%

2,653

334,832

332,179

Oklahoma

0.9%

15,638

1,808,803

1,793,165

South Carolina

1.6%

36,928

2,334,823

2,297,895

Utah

2.0%

31,325

1,627,831

1,596,506

Montana

2.4%

12,266

532,323

520,057

Wisconsin

2.5%

73,502

3,036,548

2,963,046

Idaho

2.6%

22,290

885,758

863,468

Oregon

2.7%

53,994

2,085,367

2,031,373

South Dakota

4.6%

20,413

466,472

446,059

Expert Insight on COVID-19 Employment Shifts

MoneyGeek reached out to nine experts to weigh in on employment shifts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read their insightful answers to the five questions below.

  1. What role has the fiscal stimulus had on job loss and recovery? What impact has it had on states, businesses and individuals?
  2. What else could government officials do to balance economic recovery with public health?
  3. Given the ripple effect that jobs gained or lost in one industry have on other industries, which sectors are you most interested in or concerned about?
  4. How would you expect state economies to change over time?
  5. Is there anything else you see in the state employment/unemployment data that offers insight into what may lie ahead?
Jason Furman
Jason Furman

Professor of the Practice of Economic Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

Megan Greene
Megan Greene

Senior Fellow, Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School

Mike Rosenbaum
Mike Rosenbaum

Founder & CEO of Arena

Christopher T. Stanton
Christopher T. Stanton

Marvin Bower Associate Professor

Richard B. Freeman
Richard B. Freeman

Faculty Co-Director, Labor and Worklife Program, Harvard Law School; Co-Director, Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities; and Herbert Ascherman Professor of Economics, Harvard University

Claudia Sahm
Claudia Sahm

Director of Macroeconomic Policy, Washington Center for Equitable Growth and Former Section Chief in the Division of Consumer and Community Affairs at the Federal Reserve Board

Hilary Hoynes
Hilary Hoynes

Professor of Public Policy and Economics, Haas Distinguished Chair in Economic Disparities, and Co-director, Berkeley Opportunity Lab, University of California Berkeley

Terri Gerstein
Terri Gerstein

Director, State and Local Enforcement Project, Harvard Labor and Worklife Program, and Senior Fellow, Economic Policy Institute

Jesse Rothstein
Jesse Rothstein

Professor of Public Policy and Economics and Faculty Director, California Policy Lab, University of California, Berkeley

Methodology

The MoneyGeek data analysis team examined monthly employment data by state from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and COVID-19 cases and deaths from Johns Hopkins.

We identified the lowest monthly employment number since February 2020 and compared it to February's employment levels to calculate the total lost jobs due to COVID-19. The number of recovered jobs was calculated as the gain in jobs from the lowest employment month to the current month.

2021 Job Growth vs. COVID Cases and Deaths

The team analyzed monthly employment numbers nationally and by state. We identified the most consistent recent trend as showing jobs declining from Fall 2020 until January 2021. From there, we saw steady job growth through July 2021. Job growth percentage is calculated as the gain in jobs from January 2021 through July 2021, divided by the jobs in January 2021.

MoneyGeek identified the low point for new national COVID-19 cases after the 2020 Holidays as March 14, 2021. Data before this date was excluded from the analysis because of the lag in the impact from the spike in cases over the holiday period. Data after this date reflects the effect of both the vaccine rollout and — most recently — increases in cases and deaths due to the Delta variant. The growth rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths was assessed from March 14, 2021, through August 24, 2021 — the most recent date that case and death data was available at the time of analysis.

Data Definitions

Cases Per 100 Jobs: Reported COVID-19 cases (see methodology above) divided by Jobs Recovered multiplied by 100.

Deaths Per 10,000 Jobs: Reported COVID-19 related deaths (see COVID-19 data methodology above) divided by Jobs Recovered multiplied by 10,000.

Low Month: The state's month of lowest employment since February 2020.

Lost Jobs: The decline in jobs between February 2020 and either the Low Month or the most recent month for which there is data, depending on how it's used in that section.

Lost Jobs (%): Lost Jobs divided by the February 2020 jobs as reported by the BLS.

Jobs Recovered: The difference in jobs from the current period to the jobs in the Low Month.

Jobs Recovered (%): Jobs Recovered divided by the absolute value of Lost Jobs from February to the Low Month.

Political Party Voting History: Red and blue labels were used to define each state by the voting history in the past five presidential elections. States where the republican candidate won three out of the five elections were labeled as red, and states where the Democratic candidate won three out of the five elections were labeled as blue.

Recovered Jobs as % of February Jobs: Jobs Recovered divided by the February 2020 jobs as reported by the BLS. This measure is used to assess the impact of the recovered jobs.

Job Growth (2021 %): The increase in jobs from January 2021 to July 2021, divided by the January 2021 jobs as reported by the BLS.

About the Author


expert-profile

Deb Gordon is author of The Health Care Consumer’s Manifesto (Praeger 2020), a book about shopping for health care, based on consumer research she conducted as a senior fellow in the Harvard Kennedy School’s Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government between 2017 and 2019. Her research and writing have been published in JAMA Network Open, the Harvard Business Review blog, USA Today, RealClear Politics, TheHill, and Managed Care Magazine. Deb previously held health care executive roles in health insurance and health care technology services. Deb is an Aspen Institute Health Innovators Fellow, and an Eisenhower Fellow, for which she traveled to Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore to explore the role of consumers in high-performing health systems. She was a 2011 Boston Business Journal 40-under-40 honoree, and a volunteer in MIT’s Delta V start-up accelerator, the Fierce Healthcare Innovation Awards, and in various mentorship programs. She earned a BA in bioethics from Brown University, and an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School.