Covid-19 and local businesses in real time

As the Omicron variant continues to spread in many parts of the country, the Instawork Economic Research Division has been using our proprietary labor market data to understand the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on decisions taken by businesses and hourly professionals in real time.

In the inaugural edition of the Instawork Economic Research Newsletter, we offered insights on shift cancellations by hourly workers and businesses' ability to fill shifts on short notice using our platform. We also highlighted how changes in hourly wages were linked to the likelihood of filling shifts during this period. 

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Here are the insights we included in our inaugural edition of the newsletter.

Overview

▪ Instawork labor market data show the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on decisions taken by businesses and hourly professionals in real time.

▪ Shifts with less than 48 hours’ notice peaked with Covid-19 cases during the Omicron variant surge.

▪ Businesses offering higher pay during the surge were better able to fill shifts without interruption.

Spotlight

The Covid-19 pandemic has had dramatic effects on the market for hourly paid workers, which is mainly an in-person and thus location-specific market. The data generated by transactions on the Instawork platform have offered a view of the pandemic in real time:

28 Jan 2022 Instawork covid cancellations

When workers cancel shifts, they leave a note by way of explanation on the Instawork app. During peaks in the spread of Covid-19, those notes have cited medical reasons more often. Of course, when workers (or their family members) suffer prolonged illnesses, they are less likely to sign up for any shifts at all, and thus will not have as many medical-related cancellations. So it makes sense to see a steep drop in medical-related cancellations as a peak in Covid-19 cases passes, and this has been the case in the latter part of January 2022.

These data provide a pulse at the regional level as well. In fact, the data show how the Omicron wave swept across the country, both in the decisions taken by businesses and in those of hourly workers:

28 Jan 2022 Instawork short-notice shifts during Omicron surge - smoothed and indexed four new regions Tampa

These charts show the share of short-notice shifts among shifts made available by businesses on our platform. When workers are absent because of illness or other reasons, businesses often need to fill shifts urgently. Among the metropolitan areas shown above, the uptick in short-notice shifts started earliest in New York, then passed through Washington and Tampa, and finally came to Phoenix, where it is still ongoing.

Some businesses were able to adjust their staffing as Covid-19 cases became more prevalent, and indeed some of them started to book shifts further in advance to ensure that they would be able to continue operations. Drilling down to a specific region and sector among the dozens covered on the Instawork platform, the case of light-industrial and warehouse work in the Washington, D.C. area is particularly illustrative. Short-notice shifts did rise along with Covid-19 cases, but, at the same time, the rate at which businesses were able to fill shifts started to fall:

28 Jan 2022 Instawork Washington focus

In the early days of the Omicron wave, businesses raised the hourly wages on offer, likely to attract more workers and fill shifts. By January 12, with average hourly wages roughly 8% higher than their original level on December 1, the share of short-notice shifts had returned to their original level – and so had the fill rate. But wages continued to rise, and the fill rate did as well.

By contrast, in the New York area, businesses appeared to anticipate the effects of a surge of Covid-19 cases. Hourly wages began to rise in early December and have stayed higher since then. Short-notice bookings have fallen, and fill rates have increased.

These data suggest that hourly professionals respond to changes in wage offers, even in times of labor market pressure, and flexibility on the part of businesses may help to keep operations running smoothly.

Statistics

These statistics, derived from data aggregated across the Instawork platform, compare the two weeks starting 1/15/2022 to the previous two weeks. To control for the overall growth of the Instawork marketplace, only shifts involving businesses that booked shifts in both periods are included:

  • $0.03 drop in average hourly wages
  • 7.5% point drop in the share of short-notice shifts
  • 0.3% point rise in the fill rate for all shifts

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