Economic Recovery Scorecard – December 2021

RCF Scorecard Shows Economy 105% Recovered from Recession

Peter Bernstein, Chief Economist,, 312-431-1540 x1515

The RCF Recovery Scorecard improved to 105%, up from the previous month’s reading of 101%.  Twelve of our 16 measures improved in the last month and ten have recovered more than 100% of their recession losses.  Among the laggards are payroll employment, the level of the labor force and, especially, total vehicle sales which continue to stagnate well below their pre-recession peak. 

Notes and methodology:  All data are seasonally adjusted monthly values.  Variables 4 through 9, and 13 are data from December; all others are from November.  Example calculation for economic variable #1, real income less government transfers fell 8.0% from its February 2020 value to its low point in April 2020.  In the latest available report, the variable was 0.6% above its peak value.  Therefore, it has recovered 107% of the loss. Data Sources: #1, 2, 3, 12, 13: Bureau of Economic Analysis; #4, 5, 6, 7, 8:  Bureau of Labor Statistics; #9: U.S. Employment and Training Administration; #10: Federal Reserve; #11: Bureau of the Census; #14, 15: Bureau of the Census and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, #16:  National Association of Realtors.

Conflicting Data from the Labor Market   

The subset of our labor market indicators (variables 2 and 4 through 9) shows a recovery of 95% in contrast to the remaining variables which as a group have recovered 112% of their recession losses.  But even within the labor market sector, the results are mixed.  New claims for unemployment are at record lows, and the unemployment rate, number of unemployed, and number of full-time workers are close to a full recovery.  The contrast between payroll employment (84% recovered) and full-time employment (96% recovered) stems from their different sources. Payroll employment is obtained from a survey of firms while full-time employment comes from a survey of households.  One key difference is that the household survey includes self-employed people while the survey of businesses does not.  The pandemic appears to have spirited an increase in self-employment that is not captured in the payroll survey.  Another factor is that workers who are out sick may not be included in the payroll number but are typically counted in the household number.

The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank has created its own measure of labor market to resolve these and other conflicting data points.  Their measure is an even broader collection of labor market variables, and this index shows that the labor market has returned to its pre-recession level.  While the RCF measure shows the labor market not fully recovered, the trend is similar to the KC Fed’s index.  Our labor market recovery percentage has increased in every month since May of 2020.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, KC Fed Labor Market Conditions Index, Level of Activity Indicator [FRBKCLMCILA], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis;, January 11, 2022.

Appendix – Recent History of Recovery Scorecard

Note:  Historical data are often revised so comparisons with earlier RCF Scorecards may reflect the impact of revisions. 

Monthly Recovery Percentages