Jobs Recovery in Major Markets Accelerates in March

The employment situation improved in nearly every major market RealPage tracks in March. With the number of COVID-19 vaccinations climbing throughout the country and business and travel restrictions easing, a semblance of normalcy appears to be on the horizon for many.

Though annual job loss is still steep across many markets, all of the nation’s worst annual performers gained back previously lost jobs in March, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). New York and Los Angeles saw the most improvement, regaining from 92,000 to 127,000 jobs compared to February, while the rest of the markets on the list gained back anywhere from 18,000 to 55,000 lost jobs.

The list of markets with the steepest annual job losses in March was almost the same as last month with only one market failing to return. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston returned in the same spots on the list. According to the BLS, New York’s annual job loss is now 723,100 positions, a vast improvement from the 1.4 million jobs lost in the initial months of the lockdowns.

Los Angeles’ annual loss of 456,000 jobs through March is an improvement from last month of 92,300 jobs, but it still leaves the market 11% below the market’s employment level from February 2020.

Chicago and Boston regained about 40,000 to 55,000 jobs between February and March, but still lost roughly 215,000 to 331,000 jobs for the year.

Displacing Houston, Washington, DC and Philadelphia are ranked #5 and #6 on the list of 10 steepest job loss markets with nearly 190,000 jobs lost each, although each improved by about 30,000 to 40,000 jobs from February.

Houston gained back about 50,000 jobs compared to February, bringing the market’s annual job loss total to 175,000 positions. This recent improvement moved Houston down on the list of the nation’s worst annual performers, taking the market from #5 last month to #7 in March.

Orlando made the 10 steepest job loss markets list for the first time as other markets (such as Minneapolis-St. Paul, which fell off the list) improved more. The 18,300-job improvement from February leaves the market with 154,800 jobs lost for the year.

Anaheim and San Francisco are still dealing with steep annual job losses amounting to nearly 140,000 each, but both regained an average of 33,500 jobs compared to February.

These month-over-month comparisons of not seasonally-adjusted labor data from the BLS can sometimes be misleading, but nonetheless give an idea of overall trends. In addition to the 10 steepest job loss markets, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Dallas, Detroit, and Atlanta had significant improvement in regaining lost jobs compared to last month, each adding back more than 29,000 jobs.

Comparing employment levels from February 2020, before the pandemic shutdowns, reveals that four of the 150 major markets RealPage tracks have regained all of the jobs lost during the pandemic – Provo, UT, Lakeland, FL, Boise City, ID, and Salt Lake City. Of the 10 hardest hit markets, roughly half are about 6% to 8% away from reaching their February 2020 employment level, while the remainder are 10% to 12% below pre-pandemic levels.

Other major markets that are closer to regaining their pre-pandemic employment levels include: Austin (-1.7%), Jacksonville (-1.9%), San Antonio (-2.3%), Memphis (-2.7%), Kansas City (-2.7%), Tampa (-2.7%), and Dallas (-2.8%).

The number of markets with at least 100,000 jobs lost through March is now 16, as five markets dropped off: Seattle, Miami, Portland, OR, Oakland, and Nassau County-Suffolk County, NY. That is now one-third of the 49 markets on the list in April. Additionally, 19 markets lost between 50,000 and 99,999 jobs annually as of March. Combined, the jobs lost in the 10 worst markets accounted for 41% of the total losses for the top 150 markets RealPage tracks. The next 10 markets for job losses accounted for another 17% of total job losses.

As with the list of markets with the steepest job losses, the list of steepest percentage change in employment has many returning entries. According to the BLS, all of last month’s list returned with several changing places. Returning major markets include New York, San Francisco, Orlando, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.

With this month’s improvement in employment, each of the steepest percentage job loss markets reduced their loss percentages by 90 to 270 basis points (bps). The small market of Santa Rosa, CA had the most improvement in percentage job loss compared to last month (268 bps), while Orlando improved the least (91 bps).

The range or spread of percentage job losses for the 10 worst markets increased by 25 bps from last month as weak-to-moderate improvement in the Midland/Odessa employment base was outpaced by stronger improvement in markets like New Orleans or Springfield, MA.