For at least a decade, the AGS labor force models have been fairly stable in terms of data sources and techniques, using a combination of the annual American Community Survey (ACS) block group data and the monthly unemployment updates for states and large metropolitan areas from the Current Population Survey (CPS). For most uses, a semi-annual update is more than adequate, except perhaps in limited areas where a major employment impact has been recently felt, such as the closure of a factory.
When California became the first state to order a lockdown on March 20th, we made the decision to track unemployment on a weekly basis, at least for a couple of months until the whole thing had blown over. Nearly 10 million workers nationwide filed for unemployment insurance benefits in March, most of those in the last two weeks. At the beginning of February, the total number of workers on unemployment insurance benefits was just over 2 million and had been relatively stable. By May 9th, it peaked at nearly 23 million and over 33 million workers had requested benefits in just two months.
Our block group level unemployment estimates have now been produced for six months and we have extended our plans to at least the end of the year as this fluid situation continues. The county level map for the peak of May 9th would have been unthinkable just a few months ago:
In many parts of the country, 30% unemployment was widespread and at the block group level, there were areas where we estimated as high as 60% unemployment. As the crisis has continued, the total receiving unemployment insurance benefits has fallen to just over 12 million and weekly claims have been consistently under 1 million. We have commented several times that we find it very disturbing how quickly a weekly claims report of 1 million is seen as a good report instead of an utter catastrophe. Although we are partial to purple and react poorly to orange (think Texas college football), we must admit that we are relieved that our maps – as below at the end of August – no longer contain any purple.
As we continue with the program over the next few months, I think we all would like to see only yellow and orange on the map.
We are proud to say that over the last six months, this data has been used by researchers, journalists, academics and business owners to make sense of what is happening across the U.S. You can find the data, free for download, here. We have seen many of our partners use this data creatively, like the free application from Sites USA which beautifully maps the data on an interactive platform which includes social sentiment data from our friends at Spatial.AI. You can find that map here.