Using weekly, anonymized administrative payroll data from the largest U.S. payroll processing company, we measure the evolution of the U.S. labor market during the first three months of the global COVID-19 pandemic. After aggregate employment fell by 21 percent through late-April, we highlight a modest employment rebound through late-May. The re-opening of temporarily shuttered businesses contributed significantly to the employment rebound, particularly for smaller businesses. We show that worker recall has been an important component of recent employment gains for both re-opening and continuing businesses. Employment losses have been concentrated disproportionately among lower wage workers; as of late May employment for workers in the lowest wage quintile was still 30 percent lower relative to mid-February levels. As a result, average base wages increased by over 5 percent between February and May, though this increase arose entirely through a composition effect. Finally, we document that businesses have cut nominal wages for about 10 percent of continuing employees while forgoing regularly scheduled wage increases for others.
This paper was released as part of the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, scheduled for June 25, 2020.