The U.S. labor market is on track to hit a milestone this month or next: It will have recovered all of the jobs lost in the pandemic recession.

That is a remarkable feat, but one lost in the worries of whether inflation is bringing another recession quick upon its heels. What should be a moment of retrospection, when we scrutinize the economy's performance in that recovery, is instead swamped by speculation of what may be coming next.

But that retrospection is necessary. A recession marked by extremes—the worst job loss, the highest unemployment, the fastest recovery since the Great Depression—reveals weaknesses in our labor market that a mild recession couldn't.

The pandemic recession officially started in February of 2020. The labor market bottomed out two months later with a shocking 22 million jobs lost in April 2020. However, the economy consistently added jobs each month since then (excepting a single setback in December 2020). The pace of job growth in 2021 was on par with the fastest in the postwar era. If it holds, the United States will regain all of the jobs lost in the recession by July or August of this year, exceeding most all expectations. Figure 1 shows the monthly change in the number of total jobs in the U.S. economy relative to February 2020.

Adding 22 million jobs in just over two years has no precedent in modern recessions. The U.S. labor market has never recovered that many jobs so quickly.

But in a labor market with more than 150 million workers, the danger in declaring victory over a recession is failing to consider the unevenness of success.

The pandemic recession exposed multiple structural weaknesses in the labor market. Among them: the extent of sudden job loss in industries such as elective health and leisure and hospitality; the high rates of COVID-19 among workers in certain manufacturing sectors; the stress experienced by educators in public schools; and many more. Each of these carry their own story through the recession of decline and recovery, of policy options pursued or not, of lessons to be learned.

A standout weakness throughout the recession and recovery, however, has been women's labor force participation—that is, the share of women in the population who are either working or actively looking for work. The factors that have been squeezing women out of the workforce are by some measures getting worse, not better.

Read the full article about U.S. job recovery by Kathryn A. Edwards at RAND Corporation.