Between May 2021 and May 2022, the District’s labor force has grown by nearly 6,000. The labor force, as estimated by the BLS per today’s data release, is at 386,440—still about 14,323 below pre-pandemic levels. The bad news: this is probably due to population loss including the loss of working adults. The good news: the 6,000 increase is recent, perhaps signaling that employment growth will also pick up. The labor force remained virtually flat between May 2020 and May 2021, and of the 6,000 increase almost 15 percent happened in a single month between April and May of 2022. Importantly, D.C.’s labor force growth outpaced the nation, which saw an increase of 2.2 percent in the size of the labor force.
Why are people going back to work? It could be that high inflation is pushing many back into the labor force, or perhaps fear of an upcoming recession motivating return to work. As a result, the labor force participation rate, which hit a low in May 2020 at 67.5 percent, has fully recovered from the pandemic’s impacts. Labor force participation has remained above 70 percent since June 2021, indicating a full recovery (but again somewhat dampened by the population loss).
Resident employment also remains below pre-pandemic levels but continues to recover. Since May 2020, resident employment has increased by 18,000 and 6 percent of this growth occurred between April and May 2022. Consequently, the unemployment rate continues to fall and in May 2022, hit its lowest point since the onset of the pandemic, remaining only 0.3 percentage points behind pre-pandemic levels.