January 15, 2021 by Luke Mason
Picture 2020 as a 100-foot wave. Some industries (online shopping) surfed like a pro, a few (grocery stores) rode it out, but many (travel and accommodation) got rolled.
These real-world impacts match the trends we’ve observed in US job postings since last April. In other words, job postings are more than just online advertisements. They are a powerful early indicator of actual labor market change, industry performance, and shifts in demand. When job postings decline, we can conclude that businesses are tightening their belts and preparing for hard times.
In this post, we explore job posting trends across US industries throughout 2020. And since job postings are omens of economic activity, keep your eyes peeled for clues of which industries are likely to flourish in 2021…and which could continue the downward slump.
Overall, new job postings in 2020 fell 32% from 2019.
2019 (admittedly a blockbuster year) had 55 million new job postings, while 2020 had only 38 million, according to Emsi Job Posting Analytics. That is a huge decline of 17 million new job postings in a single year.
As a small caveat: December itself wasn’t half bad. Despite a rash of new lockdowns and more than 800,000 unemployment claims per week, December saw nearly five million new job postings. That’s more than any other month in 2020. (The second-highest month, October, had 4.6 million.) It’s also more than December of 2019, when job postings behaved like normal and slumped during the holidays.
But overall, companies significantly scaled back posting activity in 2020. The chart below contains two comparisons:
Keep scrolling to read the story!
|2019||2020||Change since 2019||% Change since 2019||% Change since Jan/Feb 2020|
|National Security and International Affairs||279,515||316,088||36,573||13%||0%|
|Monetary Authorities-Central Bank||1,187||1,218||31||3%||9%|
|Couriers and Messengers||316,858||296,108||-20,750||-7%||322%|
|Administration of Environmental Quality Programs||39,678||35,470||-4,208||-11%||-2%|
|Nursing and Residential Care Facilities||739,430||650,318||-89,112||-12%||27%|
|Administration of Human Resource Programs||87,799||77,138||-10,661||-12%||-10%|
|Wood Product Manufacturing||57,116||49,796||-7,320||-13%||0%|
|Health and Personal Care Stores||533,203||459,318||-73,885||-14%||50%|
|Fishing, Hunting and Trapping||2,293||1,959||-334||-15%||6%|
|Food and Beverage Stores||814,198||688,078||-126,120||-15%||64%|
|Building Material and Garden Equipment and Supplies Dealers||601,665||507,601||-94,064||-16%||36%|
|Sporting Goods, Hobby, Musical Instrument, and Book Stores||245,262||205,984||-39,278||-16%||11%|
|Motor Vehicle and Parts Dealers||554,866||453,940||-100,926||-18%||15%|
|Warehousing and Storage||44,105||35,982||-8,123||-18%||49%|
|Religious, Grantmaking, Civic, Professional, and Similar Organizations||495,348||404,002||-91,346||-18%||36%|
|Publishing Industries (except Internet)||1,068,593||870,767||-197,826||-19%||209%|
|Ambulatory Healthcare Services||3,061,258||2,439,150||-622,108||-20%||81%|
|Scenic and Sightseeing Transportation||1,953||1,543||-410||-21%||-3%|
|Justice, Public Order, and Safety Activities||74,128||58,021||-16,107||-22%||-6%|
|Computer and Electronic Product Manufacturing||632,195||490,087||-142,108||-22%||7%|
|Waste Management and Remediation Services||97,948||73,553||-24,395||-25%||67%|
|Beverage and Tobacco Product Manufacturing||63,798||47,338||-16,460||-26%||-6%|
|Support Activities for Agriculture and Forestry||31,475||22,952||-8,523||-27%||6%|
|Executive, Legislative, and Other General Government Support||528,349||384,878||-143,471||-27%||-18%|
|Data Processing, Hosting, and Related Services||159,950||115,995||-43,955||-27%||57%|
|Plastics and Rubber Products Manufacturing||105,237||74,813||-30,424||-29%||5%|
|Administration of Housing Programs, Urban Planning, and Community Development||7,852||5,501||-2,351||-30%||-15%|
|Museums, Historical Sites, and Similar Institutions||25,530||17,802||-7,728||-30%||-34%|
|General Merchandise Stores||1,212,166||843,640||-368,526||-30%||88%|
|Other Information Services||24,615||17,111||-7,504||-30%||-14%|
|Credit Intermediation and Related Activities||1,074,995||744,065||-330,930||-31%||4%|
|Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction||154,005||106,514||-47,491||-31%||13%|
|Transportation Equipment Manufacturing||368,162||251,424||-116,738||-32%||-16%|
|Personal and Laundry Services||446,664||302,925||-143,739||-32%||13%|
|Broadcasting (except Internet)||200,258||135,178||-65,080||-32%||20%|
|Administration of Economic Programs||74,603||49,737||-24,866||-33%||-43%|
|Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services||6,601,800||4,359,683||-2,242,117||-34%||13%|
|Fabricated Metal Product Manufacturing||175,880||115,762||-60,118||-34%||29%|
|Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing||43,218||28,425||-14,793||-34%||24%|
|Food Services and Drinking Places||2,594,119||1,705,280||-888,839||-34%||21%|
|Specialty Trade Contractors||543,346||353,693||-189,653||-35%||20%|
|Mining (except Oil and Gas)||24,971||16,237||-8,734||-35%||-16%|
|Electrical Equipment, Appliance, and Component Manufacturing||107,601||69,648||-37,953||-35%||-2%|
|Textile Product Mills||44,885||28,993||-15,892||-35%||8%|
|Miscellaneous Store Retailers||519,741||335,455||-184,286||-35%||8%|
|Leather and Allied Product Manufacturing||32,103||20,657||-11,446||-36%||1%|
|Administrative and Support Services||10,638,649||6,803,805||-3,834,844||-36%||14%|
|Merchant Wholesalers, Nondurable Goods||443,292||278,163||-165,129||-37%||14%|
|Merchant Wholesalers, Durable Goods||519,541||325,415||-194,126||-37%||4%|
|Repair and Maintenance||246,397||154,271||-92,126||-37%||72%|
|Insurance Carriers and Related Activities||1,560,219||966,753||-593,466||-38%||2%|
|Nonmetallic Mineral Product Manufacturing||61,055||37,752||-23,303||-38%||31%|
|Furniture and Home Furnishings Stores||209,321||128,929||-80,392||-38%||4%|
|Electronics and Appliance Stores||310,695||190,896||-119,799||-39%||-3%|
|Securities, Commodity Contracts, and Other Financial Investments and Related Activities||325,202||198,835||-126,367||-39%||6%|
|Rental and Leasing Services||220,145||133,956||-86,189||-39%||-4%|
|Funds, Trusts, and Other Financial Vehicles||47,186||28,374||-18,812||-40%||47%|
|Wholesale Electronic Markets and Agents and Brokers||18,887||10,919||-7,968||-42%||-5%|
|Printing and Related Support Activities||62,459||36,098||-26,361||-42%||-22%|
|Animal Production and Aquaculture||22,094||12,749||-9,345||-42%||6%|
|Primary Metal Manufacturing||59,794||34,217||-25,577||-43%||2%|
|Furniture and Related Product Manufacturing||76,963||43,870||-33,093||-43%||172%|
|Management of Companies and Enterprises||132,853||75,354||-57,499||-43%||3%|
|Oil and Gas Extraction||42,003||23,418||-18,585||-44%||-26%|
|Clothing and Clothing Accessories Stores||657,790||364,853||-292,937||-45%||-16%|
|Space Research and Technology||4,404||2,375||-2,029||-46%||-56%|
|Forestry and Logging||2,982||1,597||-1,385||-46%||50%|
|Performing Arts, Spectator Sports, and Related Industries||64,385||34,368||-30,017||-47%||-35%|
|Transit and Ground Passenger Transportation||170,307||90,894||-79,413||-47%||93%|
|Amusement, Gambling, and Recreation Industries||236,851||125,380||-111,471||-47%||-5%|
|Support Activities for Transportation||1,015,864||536,997||-478,867||-47%||150%|
|Support Activities for Mining||29,571||15,255||-14,316||-48%||-31%|
|Lessors of Nonfinancial Intangible Assets (except Copyrighted Works)||119,090||60,497||-58,593||-49%||153%|
|Construction of Buildings||753,426||315,523||-437,903||-58%||4%|
|Motion Picture and Sound Recording Industries||56,373||19,659||-36,714||-65%||-40%|
|Total job postings||55,348,627||37,767,656||-17,580,971||-32%|
A handful of major industries stuck right with the average of 32% decline, such as General Merchandise Stores (-30%). The fascinating exception within this industry would be retail giants such as Walmart, Home Deport, and Target, who were able to grow along with the likes of Amazon—thanks to the option of both digital shopping and thousands of physical stores.
But let’s look at a few of the industries that didn’t stick with the average.
First, the bad news. Here are four sectors that suffered significantly:
Construction of Buildings -58% (-438K) new job postings since 2019, +4% since COVID started– Renovation, repair, and improvement companies (like HomeAdvisor or Cornerstone Building), and hotel management firms (like Aimbridge Hospitality) had 438,000 fewer job postings in 2020 than in 2019. This is because millions of Americans were under lockdown for weeks on end, plus many were wary of admitting people into their home or business in general. Outdoor projects like painting and landscaping still thrived, but indoor jobs…not so much.
Accommodation -63% (-400K) new job postings since 2019, -51% since COVID started – Lockdown orders, tighter budgets, and fear of traveling bled the hotel industry dry. Job posting activity dropped by 50% with 400,000 fewer accommodation job postings in 2020 than in 2019.
By September, the world’s five biggest hotel chains had lost over $25 billion. In mid-November, the American Hotel and Lodging Association conducted a survey that covered the then eight months of COVID restrictions. The results were brutal. Given the current and projected travel demand:
Air Transportation -64% (-28K) new job postings since 2019, -40% since COVID started – US airlines’ 2020 net losses are expected to have topped $35 billion. In a tight fix, airlines are shedding thousands of workers. American Airlines recently announced it would lay off 19,000 workers; United Airlines, 13,000.
Water Transportation -68% (-10K) new job postings since 2019, -46% since COVID started – No travel industry has been more stricken than cruise lines. The $150-billion industry has lost not just passengers and voyages, but entire ships. Revenue in 2020 was down as much as 75% for major cruise lines like Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. But after a nine-month no-sail order, the cruise industry is cautiously preparing to sail again, so we might see more job postings as 2021 ramps up.
Motion Picture & Sound Recording Industries -65% (-37K) new job postings since 2019, -40% since COVID started – Been to the movies lately? Didn’t think so. Release dates for one hundred movies have been postponed, including major films like the next 007 installment. In Q3 of 2020, cinema chains like AMC and Cinemark saw revenue drops of 91% and 96%, respectively. The global box office slumped so bad last March that Walt Disney and Universal Pictures declared they would no longer announce box office figures. Who needs to be depressed?
Truck Transportation -38% (-1.6 million) new job postings since 2019, +59% since COVID started and Support Activities for Transportation -47% (-479K) new job postings since 2019, +150% since COVID started – In the year of order-everything-online, how could trucking job postings go down? Namely, because these two industries don’t include Amazon’s postings for truck drivers. Instead, Truck Transportation features job postings for trucking companies that serve all the smaller businesses and restaurants who had to scale back or tap out. These two normally booming industries had two million fewer job postings than they did in 2019.
Three industry groups fared the best:
Online Shopping +20% (+75K) new job postings since 2019, +165% since COVID started – Amazon is the true outlier for 2020. While COVID was a unique calamity for dozens of industries and thousands of businesses, Amazon had their most profitable year ever.
Its global workforce shot up over 50%, putting Amazon on track to surpass Walmart as the world’s biggest private employer within two years. The e-commerce behemoth hired so much so fast that, historically, the only industries in their league would be wartime industries like shipbuilding during World War II. During its hiring sprees in the US, Amazon strategically targeted the dislocated workforces of companies such as Marriott, American Airlines, and Uber.
What 2020 showed us is that Amazon won’t just survive a pandemic, it will thrive wildly in a way that smaller businesses and brick-and-mortar stores simply can’t. E-commerce as a whole (including other top sites like eBay and Etsy) had a breathtaking year. After growing in the modest but steady 15-17% range for several quarters in 2019-2020, e-commerce sales took a volcanic leap. Sales jumped 44% in Q2 and 37% in Q3, then another 36% in the first two weeks of December alone.
Couriers & Messengers -7% (-21K) new job postings since 2019, +322% since COVID started – Now this is interesting. Despite galvanic growth (322%) during the COVID months, total new job postings for UPS, FedEx, etc., declined 7% since 2019. That’s because 2019 was a banner year in its own right for courier & messenger job postings, so 2020 was rather less exciting. Plus, while companies like Amazon exploded, many smaller businesses and corporations struggled, which slashed the overall demand for delivery.
Postal Service +18% and +2.9K new job postings since 2019, +253% since COVID started – USPS reported a $4.5 billion loss in January-March last year—before the full effects of the shutdown were done rippling. By the end of 2021, the postal service could lose more than $22 billion. Given these financial woes, the fact that USPS grew at all during 2020 (18% growth over 2019) is significant.
Warehousing & Storage -18% (-8K) new job postings since 2019, +49% since COVID started – Logistics companies and distribution houses rode the coattails of online shopping during the COVID months (+49% growth since COVID started), but declined overall from 2019 (-8K new job postings). Why? Because while few large companies may have increased their demand for warehousing and storage, thousands of smaller companies had to scale back, just we’ve seen them easing up on delivery job postings.
These are a few of the industries that were deemed “essential” and had a better go of it in 2020. When restaurants, theaters, and gyms shut down, Americans flocked to different activities, creating spikes in the demand for more workers.
Food & Beverage Stores -15% (-126K) new job postings since 2019, +64% since COVID started – With a mere 15% drop in new job postings since 2019, stores like Safeway, 7-Eleven, and Kroger escaped relatively unscathed. In other words, people rediscovered the joys of home-cooking during lockdown.
Building Material & Garden Equipment & Supplies Dealers -16% (-94K) since 2019, +36% since COVID started – With theaters and parks closed, Americans turned to Home Depot and Lowes to tackle all those house and gardening projects.
Sporting Goods, Hobby, Musical Instrument, and Book Stores -16% (-39K) since 2019, +11% since COVID started – Toilet paper wasn’t the only popular item last year! Pools, trampolines, bait & tackle, bikes, kayaks, paddle boards, running shoes, camping gear—all are out or running low in stock.
Welcome to the biggest bafflement of 2020. Healthcare-related industries outperformed industry averages (for posting activity) during 2020, yet overall job posting activity declined from 2019. During some of the worst days of the pandemic last spring, hospitals posted fewer jobs than they had before COVID hit, and nearly 135,000 hospital workers lost their jobs.
Wait a minute. Hospitals decreased their staff during a pandemic? When does that happen?
At least one reason for this is that the healthcare industry struggled to align staff with frustratingly unpredictable needs since the beginning.
Another reason is that hospitals were forced to shut down all non-COVID-related procedures (including pricey elective surgeries), which fanned the flames of financial strain. This gutted posting activity. Now some 22% of US hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages.
But a third reason why hospital hiring declined during COVID relates to four factors that are driving Americans away from the labor market in many industries, not just healthcare:
And so staffing cuts and declining labor force participation, not simply spikes in the virus, have helped create the unfortunate state where hospitals are overwhelmed.