Strongest Recovering Job Markets in October 2021

November 19, 2021

October's increase in job gains provided a much-needed boost to the recovery following lower-than-expected numbers in August and September due to the COVID-19 Delta variant. Many markets reported big gains in October, but no additional metros recovered enough jobs to reach their pre-pandemic employment levels.

Recovery has varied substantially across geographies and industries. Several markets — including Raleigh, Birmingham and Dallas — have had strong recoveries and are poised to recover jobs lost to the pandemic by late 2021 or early 2022. Meanwhile, other locations — especially in the Northeast, Midwest and Gulf Coast — have added jobs more slowly and are projected to recover in 2023 or later.

Click on the dots on the map below to see key stats for the 50 largest labor markets in the U.S. Below the map, find out which labor markets topped the LaborIQ lists for these metrics in October 2021. All figures used are seasonally adjusted.

Although the economy is trending toward recovery, recouping jobs lost doesn’t mean a return to the pre-pandemic labor market or economy — jobs will return, but in different industries and locations.

A slow recovery can be difficult, but with consecutive months of record job openings and businesses looking for workers, talent acquisition professionals will remain inhigh demand. Those aware of the labor market situation and trends in locations where they recruit will have an advantage in sourcing talent. Targeting recruitment efforts to areas that are lagging could be a winning strategy to attract top talent — as evidenced by the population migration shifts toward cities on a solid growth path.

ThinkWhy’s talent intelligence software, LaborIQ®, assesses the health of job markets based on several factors including:

  • Current employment level compared to the pre-pandemic level
  • Number of new jobs added
  • Percentage of growth in jobs from the prior period

Metro Recovery: Comparison to Pre-Pandemic Employment

Currently, employment relative to February 2020 — just before the pandemic — is an important current indicator of economic recovery and the availability of talent. This metric may not shift drastically month-to-month, but it’s worth watching these metros because the talent supply is tightening.

Salt Lake City became the first large metro to reach pre-pandemic employment levels in June, followed by Austin and Phoenix in August, and Jacksonville and Tampa in September.

Several other metros —mostly in the south — look poised to reach pre-pandemic employment levels in the coming months. Businesses in these areas will likely search for workers in other metros to relocate or work remotely to keep up with demand.

LaborIQ lists the following cities as having recovered all jobs lost or being closest to reaching their pre-pandemic employment levels, in order of their current employment relative to pre-pandemic levels in February 2020.

Recovered Metros

Top 5 Large Metros Most Likely to Recover Soon

Most New Jobs Added

The highest volumes of new jobs added each month are largely influenced by a location’s population. But given the depths of the job losses, and the recovery that awaits, these locations are an important component of progress to full recovery.

The top 5 metros combined to add over 135,000 jobs in October — New York and Chicago led the way with 34,000 and 32,000, respectively. Detroit, Los Angeles and Dallas also had big gains — each adding over 22,000 jobs. Tampa topped the charts last month but did not make the list in October after losing nearly 9,000 jobs — yet overall employment still remains above pre-pandemic levels.

By sheer volume, these larger markets will continue to lead in job gain even though the pandemic had a unique impact on the workforce in these locations. Large metros lost more jobs and — in the case of New York, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles — are farther behind in the recovery, relative to other areas. A significant number of jobs is expected to be added in these locations over the next few years, driving strong demand for talent acquisition professionals.

Seasonal hiring needs — combined with current labor shortages — may leave employers in these areas without the necessary staff. Larger metros will face an acute impact based on higher consumer demand and job openings.

Highest Month-to-Month Job Growth

Job growth as a share of population can shed light on relative improvements for some smaller markets as well as larger markets that show big improvements. This metric allows for more flexibility to compare labor market strength regardless of population.

October metro-level employment data, combined with LaborIQ’s analysis of the nation’s top 50 most populous metro areas, show large metros that were hit particularly hard by pandemic job losses — like New Orleans, Detroit and Las Vegas — leading in job growth for October.

Job growth in New Orleans, Las Vegas and San Diego could also be a signal of tourism returning after nearly two years of reduced travel due to COVID-19. New Orleans remains among the markets farthest from reaching pre-pandemic employment, so October’s job growth provides a strong boost to its recovery.

While these lists focus on the top markets for each metric, refer to the map above to find opportunities for your business. Locations underperforming in these categories, particularly related to pre-pandemic employment levels, may have a desirable talent pool or opportunity for your business.


Of the top 50 largest metros, only 5 had negative job gains in October — down from 12 in September. Most large metros saw strong job gains and growth in October, making them great locations for talent acquisition and recruitment.

Of course, even with robust demand for talent, a variety of factors make it challenging to fill the record number of open jobs. Record quits (voluntary departures) and worker confidence in obtaining higher wages or desired workplace flexibility continue to play major roles in the transition of talent this fall and winter. In all, demand for talent has never been stronger, but labor supply challenges will persist for at least the next few months and likely into 2022.


LaborIQ by ThinkWhy continuously forecasts and reports labor data at all levels, measuring impact to cities, industries, occupations and business across the U.S.