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Coronavirus Data Round-Up

A Range of Data Sources Reflect the Growing Impact of COVID-19 on Workers

Traditional labor market measures have already started to reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, a wide range of alternative data sources, from flight patterns to FitBit activity, show how deeply daily life is being affected. Here, we bring together available data on the ways in which the coronavirus crisis is impacting the U.S. labor market. The most measurable impact has been on hourly employees, with little data speaking specifically to nontraditional workers.

The first official measures reflect unprecedented challenges. This morning, weekly Unemployment Insurance data reflected the largest number of initial claims ever recorded. Nearly 3.3 million people claimed Unemployment Insurance last week, more than 11 times the  281,000 claims the prior week. Until now, the highest number of weekly claims in history was 695,000, in October 1982.

The number of UI claims is likely an understatement of unemployment; in recent years, less than a third of unemployed individuals collect benefits. BLS unemployment figures for March will be released Friday, April 3, but will be based on a survey asking about one specific week--that of March 9, before growing recognition of the need for social distancing and closed businesses. The next estimate, reflecting data for April, is scheduled for release on May 8. State and local estimates will be released soon after.

Although several months is an incredibly quick turnaround for a rigorous nationally representative survey, it is glacial compared to the pace at which the world is currently changing. Private data sources, when openly shared, can enrich understandings of how the economy is changing and the challenges experienced by workers and employers. The companies below have made their data available to researchers in order to facilitate analysis and greater knowledge of the ways in which COVID-19 is impacting businesses and their workers.

Homebase, an employee scheduling and time tracking platform used by over 100,000 businesses with hourly employees in the food, retail, and service sectors, has made anonymized data publicly available in the wake of COVID-19. This includes total hours worked, number of businesses open, number of employees working, and income loss, all available by city, state, and industry. Sharp drops in work hours began March 16, with a projected loss of $61.1 billion in wages.

OpenTable, a reservation management system used by more than 60,000 restaurants around the world, is sharing data on the number of seated restaurant customers by country, by state, and by city, available on visualizations on their website and to download. Comparing current numbers to those a year ago, declines started in early March, with drops of 100 percent in almost every U.S. state by March 22. Such a dramatic drop has significant implications for the labor market; in the U.S., waiters and waitresses make up the eighth most common occupation. Combined, there are more waiters, waitresses, food preparation, and food service workers than members of any other occupation.

Safegraph, a company that aggregates and curates mobile location tracking data for businesses and researchers, is sharing data on foot traffic for a range of business categories, including airports, supermarkets, and movie theaters, as well as for a handful of chain retail locations, including Costco, McDonalds, and Walmart. Airports, bars, and movie theaters have experienced drastic declines, while supermarkets and general purpose stores saw a boom that peaked on March 19. Although the data is on customers rather than workers, the drastic changes are likely to be reflected in layoffs for some industries and hiring surges for others. In the wake of COVID-19, Safegraph created a publicly available dashboard, and committed to providing underlying data to academics, nonprofits, and government researchers.

In addition to private actors contributing data to the broader conversation, some states and cities have begun compiling information on coronavirus impacts. Cities from New York, NY to Moscow, ID along with several states are collecting information on the impacts of illness, cancellations, and closures on workers and businesses. Information from efforts like these can inform relief and recovery efforts, and in some cases be used to secure federal relief funding.

One statistic can never represent the full complexity of today’s situation, and in a time of evolving upheaval and uncertainty, that’s more true than ever. In addition to considering a range of data sources, special attention needs to be paid to groups most likely to be left out of official or private-sector counts, including undocumented workers and those working in the informal economy. As policymakers and employers continue to develop ideas on how best to support workers during this difficult time, a thorough understanding of all the ways in which people work is essential. As researchers are able to access new and more expansive data, and conventional measures catch up, increased knowledge can translate into more effective and meaningful relief.

If you have additional data sources that may help researchers and others better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on the labor market, please email

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