The beginning of a new year is traditionally peak season for workers looking for new jobs. But what will January look like for job seekers and employers in 2021? This January may be marred by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, suppressing the job market and keeping many would-be workers at home. While the pandemic will be a dominant factor, January is still a time for many Americans to look for a new job.
Job seeking activity historically peaks in January, with 20 percent more job applications started on Glassdoor in the United States than in a typical month. The difference is even more pronounced considering that January follows the holiday season when many workers take time off from their job searches. With millions unemployed in 2020, the drive to start 2021 on a better note may further drive interest in new jobs in January.
Specifically, the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day—January 18 in 2021—is when job search activity is expected to peak, with activity boosted by 23 percent over a typical week. Despite the holiday, the mid-January period balances the renewed job seeking interest with time for workers to return from the holidays and begin their job searches in earnest.
By contrast, employers have tended to underrate this January surge, with January job openings actually 2.6 percent below a typical month. Savvy employers could get ahead of their competitors by pulling hiring earlier into the year when job seeker interest is high. But job seekers also shouldn’t be discouraged by the slow start to the year: there are still 5.4 million job openings available in the United States, according to the latest data from Glassdoor.
Of course, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic threatens to disrupt the usual seasonal patterns. In the United States, COVID-19 cases are continuing to rise and the trajectory of the pandemic in the beginning of 2021 is still unclear. If the health situation further worsens, January job seeking activity may be more muted than usual as workers stay out of the job market because of factors like childcare needs and health concerns.
Widespread vaccine availability does raise the prospect of a surge in job seeking as employers reopen and unemployed workers flood back into the job market. This could boost job seeking activity in mid-2021, when it is usually more muted. The composition may also be different than in traditional years. Worsening economic conditions may pressure lower-income workers to continue to look for jobs in the winter, while higher-income workers may delay job seeking until the vaccine is widely available.
While the ongoing pandemic means 2021 will be unlike previous years, January is still likely to be peak season for job seekers. Though the contours may be different in 2021, job seekers and employers alike would benefit from being cognizant of these seasonal trends.
In this research, we analyze job applications started and job openings posted on Glassdoor’s United States site. We calculate a given month’s deviation from a “typical month” baseline by comparing it against the average monthly value for the years of 2016 through 2020.
To calculate weekly projected values, we use a seasonal decomposition, implemented using the Prophet package, to isolate the seasonal and holiday effects. These projections are illustrative, based solely on the seasonal effects, and assume no change in the underlying trend, which may not hold, especially given the ongoing pandemic.