Data You Can Use: Keeping Pace With Labor Market Change

Postsecondary & Workforce

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Riding the crest of the Roaring ‘20s, the Casa Loma Orchestra recorded the iconic song “Happy Days Are Here Again” on October 29, 1929. On the same day, not far from their New York City recording studio, the stock market collapsed and hastened the Great Depression.

A similarly bitter irony may have faced the first waves of Americans who applied for unemployment in March 2020. As leaders shuttered schools and businesses to stem the COVID-19 pandemic, many state employment websites featured February economic reports touting some of the lowest unemployment rates in decades.

The world changed faster than anyone could predict, which poses a daunting challenge to educators and policy makers who rely on labor market information to build pathways to stable employment. Fortunately, states are learning to adapt by balancing short-term needs with long-term goals. States can consider several ways to use labor market data to blunt the immediate impact of the crisis while identifying the durable knowledge and skills that will serve students throughout their lives. Here are some examples:

Post Jobs that Address the Impact of the Pandemic

The pandemic has wiped out millions of jobs, but it has also created some immediate opportunities for job seekers. States like Idaho, Michigan and North Carolina have launched special online tools for finding those opportunities. Postings include jobs for registered nurses, COVID-19 contact tracers, delivery workers and transportation specialists. Such online tools can throw unemployed people a lifeline, but many of the jobs they feature will disappear soon after the pandemic does. Still, they may offer a stopgap for students venturing into the workforce.

Use Job Postings Data to Understand Short- and Long-Term Labor Market Dynamics

Data on online job postings can help leaders and their communities track changes to labor market demand in real time. States including Alabama, Connecticut and Illinois regularly publish analyses of such data at the state and local levels. Since the pandemic began, Connecticut has published new reports every week. Reports on job postings can inform short-term decisions about career guidance or job training amid economic upheaval. Over time, they can also offer educators insight into the skills and jobs that prove most durable.

Publish Detailed Unemployment Insurance Data to Identify Vulnerable Skills and Jobs

Data from unemployment insurance claims can offer timely insights into who is most vulnerable to the economic shocks of the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Labor publishes aggregate monthly data on who filed claims in each state — broken down by age, gender, race, ethnicity and industry. Some states go further. For example, North Dakota provides weekly updates on state and local unemployment data through an online dashboard that allows users to filter results by claimants’ industry, occupation, gender, age, race or ethnicity. Minnesota offers a similar dashboard but adds claimants’ education level to the list of filters. Such information can help leaders determine who needs training and upskilling as soon as possible — and where those people might live. Over the longer term, it can help educators identify and support the occupations and skills that have been most resilient.

Plan for the Long Haul

Unfortunately, no data system will fully inoculate job seekers, educators and students against the uncertainty of the pandemic economy. States and communities can use job postings and unemployment insurance data to perform triage on immediate challenges.

It will take time to see trends in job postings and unemployment claims, not to mention slower-moving federal employment data. Which occupations and underlying skills helped people weather the storm? Answers to questions like these can help leaders support pathways to stable and rewarding careers.

Even though some of the best data systems can’t always keep pace with jarring change, they can help state leaders steer their course toward happier days.

Author profile
Principal at Education Commission of the States |

Claus oversees efforts to improve statewide longitudinal data systems and provide state-by-state data on STEM education. He has held senior positions in education policy and research for more than 17 years and has spent much of that time helping diverse stakeholders find consensus on important education issues. Claus is dedicated to ensuring that state leaders have the information and guidance they need to make the best possible decisions affecting young people.

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