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An animation depicting changes in U.S. unemployment during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Exploring Changes in U.S. Unemployment During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Justin Sorensen

The Coronavirus Pandemic has presented a handful of challenges over the past year including increased social distancing, economic instability, and disruptions to work and family routines. As many have adapted to remote working environments, others have faced unemployment challenges in the wake of business closures over time. In this week’s Map Monday release, we will visualize the story of changing unemployment numbers resulting from pandemic impacts throughout our Nation.

Exploring Changes in U.S. Unemployment During the Coronavirus Pandemic

For this project, we will focus on (2) types of U.S. unemployment data obtained through Social Explorer from February 2020 through December 2020: These datasets include:

  • Civilian Labor Force Unemployment Numbers (Monthly)
    Map depicting April 2020 U.S. unemployment.

    Example 1: Visualization of April 2020 U.S. Unemployment

  • Civilian Labor Force Unemployment Rates (Monthly)

Let’s begin by examining Civilian Labor Force Unemployment Numbers. Presenting this monthly data as a dot-density map with each point representing at least 2,500 records of unemployment, the pandemic impacts to local businesses and the effects on the labor force at the county-level become clear. This is especially evident in the April 2020 visualization (example 1) when pandemic impacts and restrictions were especially high.

To further support the impacts which the pandemic has made on the labor force, presenting Civilian Labor Force Unemployment Rates as monthly choropleth maps assist in identifying counties which have and continue to experience high rates of unemployment. Visualizations such as these are beneficial in identifying geographic areas where additional resource allocations are required and depicting the progression of labor force stability over time.

Map depicting December 2020 U.S. unemployment.

Example 2: Visualization of December 2020 U.S. Unemployment

What do these visualizations tell us? Although the pandemic greatly impacted the entire national labor force in April 2020, there were significant signs of progression towards stability in the months that followed. The December 2020 visualization supports this finding (example 2), with many counties throughout the Nation reporting lower unemployment rates and instances of higher rates remaining along the western and southern areas of the United States.

We still have a long road ahead of us, but visualizing data in this manner indicates that we are on a positive track towards stabilizing our labor force with the impacts of the pandemic continuing to decrease over time.

Happy Mapping!

Justin Sorensen | GIS Specialist
Creativity & Innovation Services / GIS Services

  • Did you know as students, staff, and faculty of the University of Utah, you have free access to the tools and datasets available through Social Explorer? Check out this past blog post for additional information: Exploring Demographic Data Through Social Explorer
  • Interested in creating or collaborating on a similar project? Please visit the GIS Services website to connect with me.

About Map Monday Releases from GIS Services

Throughout the semester, GIS Services will be releasing bi-weekly maps on a variety of topics, demonstrating ideas and uses for incorporating geospatial technology into projects and research you are developing. To view our collection of maps, projects, or to learn more about the geospatial services offered through the J. Willard Marriott Library, please visit the GIS Services website @

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