COVID-19

Despite June’s bullish employment numbers, the job market is reeling — and will be for a while

Mitchell Hartman Jul 2, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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A grocery store employee cleans carts for customers in New York. Low-wage workers are disproportionately affected by the suffering job market. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
COVID-19

Despite June’s bullish employment numbers, the job market is reeling — and will be for a while

Mitchell Hartman Jul 2, 2020
A grocery store employee cleans carts for customers in New York. Low-wage workers are disproportionately affected by the suffering job market. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

The jobs report released Thursday was really good. U.S. employers added 4.8 million jobs in June. The unemployment rate fell 2.2% to 11.1%.

But all of that progress came when businesses were reopening. Right now, COVID-19 cases are surging in Florida, Texas, California and elsewhere. And some businesses that just re-opened are having to re-close. Some of them, maybe, for good.

It could take a long time to claw back the damage the pandemic is causing to Americans’ employment. The state of the economy is a mixed bag right now, said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union.

“We’re making great strides hiring back in certain industries that were the hardest hit,” Frick said, like leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, retail. “But at the same time, we’re adding to the ranks of the permanently unemployed, kind of the hard-core unemployed.”

So, a glass half-empty? More like three quarters.

Sure, we’ve added about 7.5 million jobs. But we lost 22 million to the pandemic before that, said Nick Bunker, Economic Research Director for North America at the Indeed Hiring Lab.

“Employment is still 10% below what we were seeing in February,” Bunker said. “And we’re still seeing really elevated levels of job separations several months into this crisis.”

That’s what Steven Heald is facing. He worked as an assistant manager at a high-end restaurant in Washington, D.C. until business dried up in mid-March.

“Got it all ready for an extended closure, and then we were furloughed that week,” Heald said.

He got on unemployment. Then the restaurant reopened in May. 

“Worked for five weeks, just doing takeout, and then the decision was made to close the restaurant for the foreseeable future,” he said.

The pain is especially severe, and may be longer lasting, for women and minorities, said Kate Bahn, director of labor market policy and economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. 

“Low-wage workers — who are disproportionately going to be Black workers, Hispanic workers, women workers — are less likely to have the assets and savings needed to be able to weather a downturn,” Bahn said.

Experts agree that jobs and incomes aren’t likely to fully recover until there’s a vaccine or a cure for COVID-19.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What does the unemployment picture look like?

It depends on where you live. The national unemployment rate has fallen from nearly 15% in April down to 8.4% percent last month. That number, however, masks some big differences in how states are recovering from the huge job losses resulting from the pandemic. Nevada, Hawaii, California and New York have unemployment rates ranging from 11% to more than 13%. Unemployment rates in Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota and Vermont have now fallen below 5%.

Will it work to fine people who refuse to wear a mask?

Travelers in the New York City transit system are subject to $50 fines for not wearing masks. It’s one of many jurisdictions imposing financial penalties: It’s $220 in Singapore, $130 in the United Kingdom and a whopping $400 in Glendale, California. And losses loom larger than gains, behavioral scientists say. So that principle suggests that for policymakers trying to nudge people’s public behavior, it may be better to take away than to give.

How are restaurants recovering?

Nearly 100,000 restaurants are closed either permanently or for the long term — nearly 1 in 6, according to a new survey by the National Restaurant Association. Almost 4.5 million jobs still haven’t come back. Some restaurants have been able to get by on innovation, focusing on delivery, selling meal or cocktail kits, dining outside — though that option that will disappear in northern states as temperatures fall. But however you slice it, one analyst said, the United States will end the year with fewer restaurants than it began with. And it’s the larger chains that are more likely to survive.

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