Marcia Hultman

Cabinet Secretary

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Labor Market Information Center

Pandemic Picture Through a Wider Lens:
Complete Overview of Key Workforce Indicators

During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Labor Force

South Dakota’s seasonally adjusted labor force recovered gradually after the COVID-19 pandemic caused a major setback in early 2020. Total labor force rebounded after several months of decline in 2020 and continued to grow gradually throughout 2021. South Dakota was one of seven states that did not issue stay-at-home orders and the only one that did not require any businesses to close during the pandemic; therefore, our labor market recovered quickly and did not see the severe impacts of the pandemic that other areas saw over the two years. This trend continued into 2022, with South Dakota’s labor force increasing by 7,100 from 465,600 in March 2021 to 472,700 in March 2022.  

Seasonally adjusted employment in South Dakota experienced a sharp decline in April 2020 when the effects of the pandemic began to impact the labor market. Between March 2020 and April 2020, South Dakota’s employment decreased by 23,700 (5.3%), while during this same time period U.S. employment decreased by 14.3%. Employment bounced back to pre-pandemic levels by November 2020 and continued to grow gradually throughout 2021. Employment in March 2022 was 461,000, which was an increase 10,100 workers over the March 2021 estimate of 450,900.

South Dakota’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rose dramatically in April 2020 once the effects of the pandemic began to set in. The number of unemployed increased by 28,600 (246.0%) between March and April 2020, and the unemployment rate went from 2.5% to 8.8%. Over that same time period national unemployment increased 221.5%, and the unemployment rate went from 4.4% to 14.7%.

The number of unemployed continued to decline after the initial surge in April 2020 when effects of the pandemic began distressing the labor market. By March 2022, the number of unemployed in South Dakota was back to pre-pandemic levels at 11,600, which was 3,100 less than in March 2021 and equal to the March 2020 level. The March 2022 unemployment rate was 2.5%, lower than the rate of 3.2% recorded in March 2021 and identical to the March 2020 rate.

Nonfarm Workers

South Dakota nonfarm seasonally adjusted worker levels are usually very stable throughout the year; however, when the coronavirus hit the state, worker levels declined sharply. From January to February 2020, the number of nonfarm workers increased 1,000 workers, jumping to 443,200 in February 2020. In March 2020, worker levels declined 2,800. Please keep in mind, this data series is based on a reference week including the 12th of the month. Even though establishments began altering their processes or closing temporarily in March 2020, April brought far more pronounced worker declines. South Dakota establishments quickly altered their plans to help lower the spread of the virus. Many establishments held off on hiring because of all the unknowns surrounding the virus. Establishments in educational services transitioned to remote learning, and many recreational activities were canceled, all having a significant effect on the demand for workers.

The nonfarm wage and salaried worker level decreased 41,900 workers (9.5%) from March to April, dropping to 398,500. Leisure and Hospitality (18,500 workers); Retail Trade (6,000 workers); and Government (6,100 workers) were the top three contributors to this loss. From March to April 2020, many establishments adjusted how they operate. Some of the changes included reducing hours, closing lobbies, increasing safety procedures, transitioning to virtual appointments, reducing occupancy and temporarily closing.

By May, establishments started to slowly increase worker levels, with some opening after temporary closures. Worker levels climbed 1.4%, up 5,600 workers. Establishments increased options to provide services to the consumer, including offering virtual appointments, spreading out tables to promote social distancing and reducing capacity when distance is not an option.

From June to October 2020, nonfarm worker levels continued trending upward, reaching 433,300 workers in October 2020. During this time, many nonfarm establishments throughout South Dakota adopted new procedures in order to combat the spread while trying to get back on track with their business operations. Some increased worker levels as demand for products and services resumed. Over this time, Retail Trade, Leisure and Hospitality, and Government had strong growth.

Worker levels declined in November (800 workers) and December (200 workers). Worker levels changed course in January 2021, increasing 1,700 workers. Leisure and Hospitality had the largest private sector growth, adding 1,000 workers in January 2021. Worker levels remain unchanged in February 2021 with 434,000 workers.

Worker levels trended up from March to June 2021, hitting 439,500 workers in June 2021. Gains were related to strong worker increases in industries such as Leisure and Hospitality, Professional and Business Services and Manufacturing. Worker levels continued an upward climb, reaching 442,400 workers in July 2021. Government added the largest number of workers with the addition of 1,600 workers in July 2021. Local Government accounted for the growth within Government, adding 1,800 workers in July 2021.

In August 2021, worker levels increased 200, climbing to 442,600 workers. Leisure and Hospitality accounted for this growth, adding 400 workers in August 2021. South Dakota nonfarm worker levels changed course in September 2021 with a modest loss of 100 workers.

South Dakota nonfarm levels rose in October 2021 (1,400 workers) and fell in November 2021 (1,700 workers), dropping to 442,200 workers. Health Care and Social Assistance had the largest over-the-month drop with a loss of 1,700 workers in November 2021. Declines in Health Care and Social Assistance are related to small drops spread throughout many of the industries in this sector.

Worker levels continued trending downward in December 2021 with a modest loss of 100. Worker levels changed course in January 2022, jumping to 442,400. Worker levels continued this upward trend in February and March, jumping to 445,700 workers by March 2022. Growth from February to March was a result of significant gains in Construction (1,800 workers) and Professional and Business Services (1,700 workers). Growth in construction was driven by an increase in demand for housing and new commercial projects that come with population increases. With people spending more time at home and many even working from home during the pandemic, there was also increased demand for contractors to complete home and yard improvement projects, additions or repurposing of space for home offices, etc. The growth in Professional and Businesses Services was a great sign industries were growing at a rate where additional professional services were required for their operations.

Leisure and Hospitality

The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact on the Leisure and Hospitality supersector. This supersector started 2020 the same as in previous years. In March 2020, many establishments started to prepare for a loss of patrons as the number of COVID-19 cases rose, cutting staffing by 1,500. During this time many seasonal establishments delayed hiring and even opening in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The largest decline in Leisure and Hospitality came in April 2020. Worker levels declined 18,500 workers (39.9%), dropping to 27,900 workers. Some establishments in this supersector temporarily closed while others changed their processes to continue serving their customers. In May 2020, many establishments in Leisure and Hospitality began to increase worker levels, with some reopening after being temporarily closed. Leisure and Hospitality jumped up 5,600 workers in May 2020. Establishments adjusted their services to operate more safely for their employees and patrons, doing additional cleaning, and moving tables and chairs to follow social distancing recommendations.

Leisure and Hospitality worker levels continued an upward trend from May to October, climbing to 43,000 workers in October 2020. This was largely due to many establishments increasing worker levels to accommodate the inflow of visitors. Establishments increased their workforce as business picked up, with some adjusting hours and others opening areas that were temporarily closed, including restaurants which again opened dining areas.

Worker levels in Leisure and Hospitality remained unchanged in November and dipped in December 2020, dropping to 42,000 workers in December. Declines were due to demand changes caused by the current pandemic.

From January to May 2021, Leisure and Hospitality worker levels trended up, reaching 45,200 in May 2021. This growth was a great sign South Dakota’s tourism-related businesses were building up staffing, anticipating a return to more normal visitor numbers following a year of limited travel. Worker levels continued trending up through September 2021, climbing to 46,600 workers. Continued growth is a positive sign for the recovery of this industry sector, which was hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leisure and Hospitality worker levels remained steady in October before continuing an upward climb in November 2021 (400 workers). In December, Leisure and Hospitality remained unchanged with 47,000 workers. Leisure and Hospitality had strong gains in January 2022, adding 900 workers. Worker levels continued climbing upward through March, jumping to 48,400 workers. Leisure and Hospitality has rebounded and exceeded (104.3%) the workforce it had in March 2020.

Retail Trade

Retail Trade worker levels are known to fluctuate in South Dakota; however, when COVID-19 entered the state, this sector's worker levels fell sharply. This sector decreased 6,000 workers (11.7%) in April 2020, dropping to 45,200. Many establishments in Retail Trade adjusted hours, with some temporarily closing.

From May 2020 to October 2020, Retail Trade steadily increased worker levels, climbing to 50,800 workers in October 2020. Establishments increased their workforce as demand increased, with some establishments reopening after briefly closing due to COVID-19. Some establishments in Retail Trade used this time to increase their digital footprint and added such services as delivery and curbside pickup for the safety and convenience of their patrons.

Worker levels in Retail Trade took a small dip (100 workers) in November 2020 and gained (400 workers) in December 2020. Retail Trade remained unchanged in January 2021, then increased to 51,300 in February 2021.

Worker levels continued upward, adding 400 workers in March 2021. The slow but steady growth in Retail Trade can be tied to stores increasing their worker levels to keep up with increasing demand through online purchases, delivery and curbside pickup options, and a slow, gradual return to more normal in-store shopping traffic.

Retail Trade declined in April and May 2021, dropping to 51,400 workers in May 2021. There were small worker level drops spread throughout many establishments in Retail Trade. In June 2021, Retail Trade added 100 workers. Worker levels continued an upward trend in July and August 2021, climbing to 51,700. Retail trade remained steady in September 2021.

Retail Trade worker levels declined in October 2021 (300 workers) and increased in November 2021 (100 workers). Worker levels continued upward to 52,000 workers in March 2022, more than recouping (101.6%) the workforce it had in March 2020.

For analysis of the most current monthly nonfarm worker levels (offering month-ago and year-ago perspectives), please visit our Overview page.

Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages

As expected, first quarter 2020 data did not reflect pandemic-related economic impacts on South Dakota industry employment. In fact, when comparing South Dakota QCEW employment data for the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2019, there was actually very slight growth in early 2020. The Coronavirus pandemic’s measurable impacts on South Dakota began in March 2020, when employment dropped slightly to 420,863 from the February 2020 level of 421,268. The lowest point for QCEW employment was April 2020, when employment dipped to 387,234.

The rebound began in May 2020, with a strong boost of 15,260 workers added back to payrolls. June brought just about as strong of bounce-back, with employment up 13,394 from May. Although the rate of recovery slowed, employment continued to climb in July and August, reaching 422,802 by August.

September brought a minimal and seasonally expected decline of 334 workers (0.1%). Continuing to demonstrate the volatility of the pandemic’s impact, October brought a gain of 0.8% followed by a 0.7% decline in worker levels in November. Worker levels grew slightly in December, ending the year at 423,927—higher than before the pandemic hit.

The employment level began 2021 with a January drop of 11,540 workers from December, but then grew steadily to a new high point of 442,632 by June 2021. With the exception of minimal growth of 337 workers from July to August 2021, employment declined through December 2021. South Dakota typically sees lower employment in winter months due to seasonal factors.

Still, the December 2021 employment level was an increase of 11,568 from the December 2020 level and growth of 14,632 since March 2020 just before the pandemic struck. In terms of pandemic recovery, QCEW data indicates South Dakota employment has rebounded. The preliminary level of 435,495 in December 2021 (most current data available), was 103.5 percent of the March 2020 level.