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Temporary layoffs remain high following unprecedented surge in early 2020

February 10, 2021

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States declared a national emergency in March 2020. Unemployment rose by 1.5 million in March, with a large increase in the number of job losers on temporary layoff—that is, those who were given a date to return to work or expected to return to work within 6 months. Before the pandemic, this group accounted for just over one-tenth of the total unemployed but expanded to more than one-fourth in March. In the months that followed, changes in the reason for unemployment reflected the evolving effects of the pandemic on the labor market.

 Number of unemployed people by reason of unemployment, January 2020–January 2021
Month Total unemployed New entrants Job leavers Persons who
temporary jobs
  Reentrants   Permanent
job losers
On temporary layoff

Jan 2020

5,796,000 560,000 828,000 630,000 1,831,000 1,305,000 640,000

Feb 2020

5,717,000 512,000 766,000 638,000 1,798,000 1,298,000 750,000

Mar 2020

7,185,000 526,000 716,000 634,000 1,772,000 1,517,000 2,047,000

Apr 2020

23,109,000 423,000 569,000 586,000 1,506,000 2,029,000 18,047,000

May 2020

20,975,000 539,000 561,000 668,000 1,613,000 2,306,000 15,297,000

Jun 2020

17,697,000 557,000 571,000 821,000 2,334,000 2,856,000 10,606,000

Jul 2020

16,308,000 513,000 579,000 818,000 2,315,000 2,843,000 9,230,000

Aug 2020

13,542,000 549,000 595,000 747,000 2,104,000 3,326,000 6,175,000

Sep 2020

12,535,000 535,000 808,000 754,000 2,123,000 3,661,000 4,624,000

Oct 2020

11,049,000 526,000 763,000 834,000 2,017,000 3,620,000 3,231,000

Nov 2020

10,728,000 551,000 698,000 987,000 1,968,000 3,718,000 2,762,000

Dec 2020

10,736,000 509,000 743,000 802,000 2,250,000 3,370,000 3,039,000

Jan 2021

10,130,000 542,000 653,000 749,000 1,963,000 3,503,000 2,746,000

In April 2020, the number of unemployed people who were on temporary layoff soared by 16.0 million to 18.0 million, reflecting the effects of the pandemic and efforts to contain it. The sudden influx of people on temporary layoff in April shifted the composition of unemployment drastically, as this group grew to account for more than three-fourths of the total unemployed.

The total number of unemployed people began to decrease in May—primarily among those on temporary layoff—when economic activity in many areas resumed on a limited basis. Although the number of unemployed people who were on temporary layoff was declining, the number of permanent job losers and the number of unemployed reentrants to the labor force both increased in June.

In October, the number of permanent job losers, at 3.6 million, surpassed the number of job losers on temporary layoff (3.2 million), and permanent job losers became the largest group among the unemployed. Following a surge in the number of coronavirus cases along with efforts to contain the pandemic, the number of people on temporary layoff increased again in December before receding in January. At the beginning of 2021, those on temporary layoff accounted for about one-fourth of the unemployed, and permanent job losers represented about one-third of the unemployed.

These data are from the Current Population Survey and are seasonally adjusted. To learn more, see "The Employment Situation — January 2021." Also see “Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Employment Situation News Release and Data” and more charts on employment, unemployment, and the labor force.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Temporary layoffs remain high following unprecedented surge in early 2020 at (visited July 13, 2024).

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