This paper presents a flow-based methodology for real-time unemployment rate projections and shows that this approach performed considerably better at the onset of the COVID-19 recession in spring 2020 in predicting the peak unemployment rate as well as its rapid decline over the year. It presents an alternative scenario analysis for 2021 based on this methodology and argues that the unemployment rate is likely to end slightly below 5 percent by the end of 2021. The predictive power of the methodology comes from its combined use of real-time data with the flow approach.
We use flows into and out of unemployment to estimate the unemployment rate over the next year. This approach produces less stark projections for the unemployment rate over the course of the next year than some of the more alarming projections that have been reported. Using our approach and assuming that the severest social-distancing measures will be lifted in June, we estimate that the unemployment rate will peak in May at about 16 percent but gradually decline thereafter and end the year at 7.5 percent.