29 Months Later, All the Jobs Lost to COVID-19 Are Back

Racial and Gender Divide Persists in Employment Despite Job Gains

Delivery worker handing off a grocery bag to a client

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

The U.S. jobs market completed a stunning recovery in 2022, making up for more than 20 million jobs it lost during the height of the pandemic-fueled recession in 2020 (which was the worst since the Great Depression.) 

With the Labor Day Weekend approaching, we took a look at which pockets of the labor market helped stage this comeback. Delivery jobs have driven most job gains even as pandemic restrictions eased. Non-White workers saw meaningful gains in jobs and incomes, but deeper race and gender divides still persist in the labor market.

Key Takeaways

  • Jobs recovered at the fastest pace seen in over 40 years after the COVID-19 pandemic, according to The Balance’s analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data.
  • The recovery is a mixed bag of job and income gains across sectors and worker demographics.
  • There are now about 75% more delivery drivers and 58% more warehousing workers due to higher demand for consumer goods from the pandemic. 
  • Black men, and Asian, Black, and Latina women have seen their weekly earnings significantly rise from 2019 to 2022. 

Fastest Job Market Recovery in 40 Years

At the height of the pandemic, job losses in the U.S. were over 14% of the jobs of last pre-pandemic month, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s 8 percentage points higher than the worst month of  job losses during the Great Recession, compared to the month immediately preceding the recession in 2007. 

In April 2020, the U.S. economy lost 20.5 million jobs and the unemployment rate was 14.7%.

However, it took just 29 months, or a little less than 2.5 years, for the labor market to fully recover all the jobs lost during the pandemic—much faster than the Great Recession, the Dot-com Bubble recession, and the recession in July of 1990, and the fastest pace in over 40 years. Full recovery finally happened in July 2022, when the U.S. economy added 528,000 jobs, the last bit needed to fully recover the jobs lost during the pandemic.

Delivery Drivers and Warehouse Workers See Greatest Job Gains

But the recovery has not been equal. Some industries have recovered faster than others, and with more demand. With pandemic lockdowns encouraging people to shop more online, there was a surge between February 2020 and June 2022 in jobs for local messengers, delivery and private postal services, as well as general warehousing and storage jobs. 

To keep up with that demand, there are now about 75% more delivery drivers and other related workers, and 58% more warehousing and storage workers than before the pandemic, according to BLS data. 

Meanwhile, there are now nearly 43% less people working as convention and trade show organizers than since the start of the pandemic. Jobs in infants’ and childrens’ clothing retail are also down over 45% since February 2020. 

Black and Asian Men See Higher Employment Levels Post-Pandemic 

Job recovery after the pandemic has been uneven across racial groups, too. Employment for some groups has been quicker and past pre-pandemic levels compared to others. 

Employment levels for Black men were 6% higher in July 2022 compared to February 2020, and employment for Asian men was also 4.4% higher in July compared to the start of the pandemic, according to data from the BLS Current Population Survey.

However, Black women and White women were the only two groups to have employment levels under the February 2020 baseline as of July 2022. Employment levels for Black women were 0.9% less in July compared to February 2020, and 2.8% less in July for White women. In general, women were among the hardest hit by job losses at the start of the pandemic, possibly due to schools shutting down and children learning remotely, as women are statistically more likely to be responsible for child care, according to data from the BLS.

Racial and Gendered Divides Still Persist In the Workforce

Substantial racial and gendered differences still exist even after the post-pandemic job recovery. 

The prime-age employment-to-population ratio can be used to gauge how underemployed a specific sector or demographic of people is and draw comparisons between various groups at a particular point in time.

Though employment levels for Black men rose from February 2020 to July 2022, the percentage of working-age Black men who are employed is still 10 percentage points lower compared to White, Latino, and Asian men, according to data from the BLS. 

There are gender divides within this, too. Though Black women make up the highest percentage of working-age adults among racial groups for women at 74.4%, the number is still lower compared to Black men at 78.3%. 

However, Black and Latina women saw the greatest changes in their prime-age employment-to-population ratios in the last three years, gaining 1.7 percentage points and 1.9 percentage points, respectively. 

Earnings for Black Men and Non-White Women Are Up Substantially 

Despite lower employment-to-population ratios, Black men and non-White women have made significant gains in usual weekly earnings for full-time wage and salary workers in the past three years. 

Black men have seen nearly 10% more in usual weekly earnings between the second quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2022. Other large increases were seen by all other non-White women with Asian women gaining 7.2%, Black women gaining 6.3%, and Latina women gaining 6.2%. White women have seen their weekly earnings increase only by 0.3% since 2019, while White and Asian men have experienced declines in their usual weekly earnings. 

Jobs Recovery: Nuance In the Numbers

You’d think that the robust jobs recovery and strength of the labor market are good things, but a tight labor market might have other economic implications.

The Federal Reserve has a dual mandate to achieve maximum employment (or lowest unemployment) and maintain stable prices in the U.S. economy. The unemployment rate was 3.5% in July—a 50-year low—which means the Fed has little to worry on that front.

However, it is still fighting high inflation (though it cooled slightly in July) by raising interest rates more aggressively to slow down the economy. Higher rates makes it more expensive for people to borrow money for big purchases like a car or a home, and for companies to invest in their business. A lack of consumer spending and a slowdown in business activity due to higher interest rates can fan fears of a recession.


Recession dates used are the business cycle dates as defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Overall and industry-specific payroll employment numbers are non-farm and seasonally adjusted from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Statistics program.

Employment levels and the employment-to-population ratio by race and gender were for 25-54 year olds (prime-age) and seasonally unadjusted values from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey. Usual weekly earnings by race and gender are seasonally unadjusted but inflation adjusted with CPI-U for wage and salary workers 16 years and older.

Research and analysis by
Adrian Nesta
Adrian Nesta, Research Analyst on the Data Journalism team at Dotdash
Adrian Nesta is a research analyst on the Data Journalism team at Dotdash, the digital publisher that owns and operates The Balance. His work includes data collection, cleaning, analysis, and visualization for stories in the data journalism portfolio across every vertical at Dotdash.
Was this page helpful?
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “The Employment Situation — April 2020.”

  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “The Employment Situation — July 2022.”

  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “(Unadj) Employed - 25 to 54 years, Asian, men.”

  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “(Unadj) Employment Level - 25-54 yrs., Black or African American Men.”

  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “(Unadj) Employment Level - 25-54 yrs., White Women.”

  6.  Bureau of Labor Statistics. “(Unadj) Employment Level - 25-54 yrs., Black or African American Women.”

  7.  Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Time adults spent caring for household children as a primary activity by sex, age, and day of week, 2021 annual averages.”

  8. Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. “The Pandemic, Child Care and Women’s Labor Force Participation.”

  9. Board of Governors of The Federal Reserve System. “What economic goals does the Federal Reserve seek to achieve through its monetary policy?

  10. FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. “Unemployment Rate.”

  11.  National Bureau of Economic Research. “US Business Cycle Expansions and Contractions.”

  12.  Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.”

Related Articles