NEWS RELEASE | Nonprofit Jobs Still Down by Nearly 960,000 as of January, Time to Full Recovery Increases to 2 Years

By on February 16, 2021

February 16, 2021
For immediate release
Contact: Chelsea Newhouse
[download as PDF]

In our continuing effort to track the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic on nonprofit employment, this report documents our estimates of COVID-induced nonprofit job losses through January 2021, as reflected in the January BLS Employment Situation Report.1In accordance with standard Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) practice, data provided in the January 2021 Employment Situation report for September-January reflect the annual benchmarking update to reflect comprehensive counts of payroll jobs derived principally from the March 2020 Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), which counts jobs covered by the Unemployment Insurance (UI) tax system. Disaggregated data reflecting this benchmarking update for prior months were not immediately available; as such, this report uses previously-released data for the months of June-August. For more on this benchmarking process, see: BLS Establishment Survey National Estimates Revised to Incorporate March 2020 Benchmarks This initial BLS 2021 monthly report carried two important revisions of prior estimates that reveal a more dire picture of sector job losses over the past five months, resulting in an updated estimate of nearly 960,000 lost nonprofit jobs as of the first month of the new year. Part 2 of this report details the halting recovery of nonprofit jobs over the past several months and Part 3 provides a rough estimate of the time it will take the sector to return to pre-pandemic employment levels.

PART 1 | Nonprofit job losses as of January 2021

As of January 2021, the nonprofit workforce remained down by nearly 958,000 jobs compared to February 2020 levels, representing a 7.7% decline from its pre-pandemic level, as shown in Figure 1.2To estimate nonprofit job losses, we began with the latest available Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data on nonprofit employment by field, which cover 2017, and calculated the nonprofit shares of total private employment by field as of this date. We then applied these shares to the monthly changes from pre-COVID (i.e., February 2020) levels in private employment by field as reported in the monthly BLS Employment Situation Reports to derive our estimates of monthly changes in nonprofit employment by field, such as those reflected in Figures 1, 2, and 3 of this report. For more on these estimates, see: Salamon & Newhouse, “The 2020 Nonprofit Employment Report,” Nonprofit Economic Data Bulletin no. 48, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies, June 2020). These lost jobs include 36.3% of all workers in nonprofit arts and entertainment organizations; 16% of nonprofit education workers; 11% of all workers in nonprofit religious, grant-making, and civic associations; over 8% of workers in nonprofit social service institutions; and more than 3% of nonprofit health care workers.

As shown in Figure 2, the first month of the new year saw an extremely modest gain of 5,158 nonprofit jobs—an overall increase of under 1% of the 963,000 jobs still lost as of December 2020.3Our December update found that, as of December, nonprofit job losses stood at an estimated 929,073. However, BLS revisions for November and December resulted in a new estimate for December, which we have incorporated in Figure 2. BLS monthly revisions result from additional reports received from businesses and government agencies since the last published estimates and from the recalculation of seasonal factors. For more information, see: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics December Employment Situation Report (2/5/2021). For the first time since May 2020, January saw fresh job losses in the health care field, with nonprofit health care institutions shedding 12,858 jobs during the month, a decrease of 5.6% from employment levels in December. Job losses also impacted the crucial social assistance field, which lost an additional 4,600 jobs in January; and the already hard-hit arts, entertainment, and recreation field, which lost 3,600 nonprofit jobs in January, dropping employment in these fields by 3.8% and 2.9% from December levels respectively.

On the other hand, January saw a reversal of the trend of monthly job losses in the education field which had persisted since September, with nonprofit educational institutions adding over 24,000 jobs during the month—an increase of 7% from December levels, though still a small share of the over 342,000 jobs lost in this field since the onset of the pandemic. Modest gains were also seen in the field encompassing religious institutions, foundations, and civic associations, which added just under 1,100 jobs.

January’s minor growth in nonprofit jobs continued a trend of exceedingly slow improvement in the nonprofit employment picture over the previous 4 months, as shown in Figure 3 (choose a field from the drop-down to see field-level data).

PART 2 | Tracking the recovery—June 2020 through January 2021

As reported in our 2020 Nonprofit Employment Report, during the first three months of the pandemic (i.e., March, April, and May 2020), we estimated that nonprofits had lost 1.64 million of the 12.5 million jobs they accounted for prior to the onset of the crisis. As shown in Figure 4, in June, July, and August, significant portions of these initial job losses were recovered. Beginning in September 2020, however, this nonprofit employment improvement slowed significantly, and in December 2020 it turned into an overall decline of 3.1% in the wake of the worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic. January saw a return to positive growth, but only marginally, with January’s 5,158 recovered jobs representing just 0.3% of the losses in the first three months of the pandemic.

Even this marginal improvement in January was confined to two fields—education and religious institutions, foundations, and civic associations—while all other fields experienced job losses. Especially notable given the enormous surge of COVID cases was the first evidence of recent losses in nonprofit health care employment, perhaps reflecting the infection and burn-out of these overly taxed front-line health care workers (choose a field from the drop-down menu to see field-level data).

PART 3 | Months to recovery at recent rates

Following the procedure laid out in our December report, we have updated our estimates of the possible time to full recovery of nonprofit employment back to pre-pandemic levels. To do so, we assumed that the average rate of nonprofit job recovery over the past seven months (July 2020 through January 2021) will prevail over the foreseeable future. With an estimated 957,731 nonprofit jobs still lost as of the end of January and an average of 40,640 nonprofit jobs recovered per month, this suggests it would take the sector 23.6 months—or nearly 2 years—to return to its pre-COVID level of employment, as shown in Figure 5. This estimate represents an increase of nearly 6 months over the timeline we reported in December, reflecting the sizable downward revisions of nonprofit job losses included in January’s report for the months of November and December 2020.

Also shown in Figure 5 are the recovery rates of nonprofit employment in the various fields of nonprofit activity using the same approach, but with one notable exception—education—which has seen an overall average decline over the 7-month period. In light of positive trends in prioritizing vaccinations for education workers and reopening schools, we developed and alternate method for estimating time to recovery in this field. To do so, we developed an upper-bound estimate based on the average job gains in this field over the full 8-month recovery period (i.e., June 2020-January 2021), and a lower-bound estimate based on just the three months of June, July, and August, which witnessed the first, ultimately ill-fated, effort to open schools. What is reported in Figure 6 for education is thus an average of these two projections—yielding an admittedly optimistic estimate of 13 months until nonprofit education employment returns to its pre-COVID level.


While January’s slight recovery of nonprofit jobs was a marked improvement over December’s additional losses, the nonprofit sector still has a long way to go to rebuild its workforce to pre-pandemic levels. In light of the still-uncharted track of the pandemic, uncertainties surrounding vaccine availability and injection, and the increased demands on nonprofits in fields crucial to the recovery of our citizens and economy, it is increasingly urgent that governments at all levels build into their legislative and policy interventions a clear recognition of the importance of supporting nonprofits. Nonprofits cannot provide services without workers, and without nonprofit services, many in need will go without the help, care, and life-enriching activities that will allow a full, equitable, and robust recovery from the current crisis. It is our hope that, by providing a window into the dire state of the nonprofit workforce, the estimates of nonprofit employment developments reported here can shed light on the need to take special care to ensure that nonprofit organizations have access to the full suite of support available to other private employers.


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By on January 19, 2021

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