Closely Monitoring Tumultuous Cedar Rapids MSA Labor Force metrics

Jan 29, 2021

Labor force is the estimated number of people living in our region who are either working or actively looking for work. Logically then we split labor force into employed and unemployed people and calculate the unemployment rate by dividing the number of unemployed people by the total labor force. These numbers are calculated from a household survey conducted every month for every county in the nation. It take approximately 6 weeks for the data to be collected and processed resulted in a slight lag, meaning we now have data for October in early December, and we’ll see November’s data in early January.

Labor force, employment, and the unemployment rate are three important metrics that we watch to see how our local supply of workforce is doing. Do we have enough local people working and looking for work to keep up with our businesses creating jobs? Is our job market balanced and competitive? Do we have enough opportunities for local residents looking for employment?

Needless to say, a pandemic and derecho sent these metrics into a bit of disarray in 2020. When businesses shut down in April 2020, employment and the labor force started dropping, and unemployment rose. That trend continued through September, reaching the lowest point it’s been in the last 10 years. Finally in October we saw the first modest increase in labor force and employment since April 2020. Around 5k people joined the employed labor force in the Cedar Rapids, IA metropolitan statistical region (Benton, Linn, and Jones Counties) and some people started looking for jobs again, resulting in a net gain of a little over 2k people in the labor force.

The steep drop in the labor force is startling and something we are watching closely. If someone is not in the labor force, that means they are no longer working, looking for a job, or collecting unemployment. The big question is whether this decline is short term or if some of the workforce we’ve lost for good due to early retirement, staying home for child care, or simply loss of work due to the pandemic.

The next big question that many people are wanting to know is which industries are being most affected? Unfortunately this survey that provides labor force and unemployment data does not ask about industry, so no questions about industry can be answered by this data.

To view our labor force dashboard, visit or reach out to Research and Analytics Specialist, Laura Thomas, at with questions about workforce data.

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