Three Lessons From a Surprisingly Resilient Job Market

The pandemic created an economic crisis unlike any recession on record. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the aftermath, too, has played out in a way that almost no economists expected.

When unemployment soared in the first weeks of the pandemic, many feared a repeat of the long, slow rebound from the Great Recession: years of joblessness that left many workers permanently scarred. Instead, the recovery in the labor market has been, by many measures, the strongest on record.

In early 2021, some economists foresaw a surge in inflation. Others were skeptical: Similar predictions in recent years — in some cases from the same forecasters — had failed to come true. This time, however, they were right.

And when the Federal Reserve began trying to tamp down inflation, there were warnings that the job market was sure to buckle, as it had threatened to do every time policymakers began raising interest rates too rapidly in the decade before the pandemic. Instead, the central bank has raised rates to their highest level in decades, and the job market is holding steady, or perhaps even gaining steam.

The final chapter on the recovery has not been written. A “soft landing” is not a done deal. But it is clear that the economy, particularly the job market, has proved far more resilient than most people thought probable.

Interviews with dozens of economists — some of whom got the recovery partly right, many of whom got it mostly wrong — provided insights into what they have learned from the past two years, and what they make of the job market right now. They didn’t agree on all the details, but three broad themes emerged.

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