COVID & Unemployment

The good news? The economy added 1.4 million jobs in August. The bad news? The economy only added 1.4 million jobs in August.

Mitchell Hartman Sep 4, 2020
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A barista making coffee at an Oklahoma cafe. While 1.4 million new jobs were added in August, employment gains are slowing. Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

The good news? The economy added 1.4 million jobs in August. The bad news? The economy only added 1.4 million jobs in August.

Mitchell Hartman Sep 4, 2020
Heard on:
A barista making coffee at an Oklahoma cafe. While 1.4 million new jobs were added in August, employment gains are slowing. Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images
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During the month of August, employers added more than a million jobs back to the economy — 1.37 million, to be precise. 

There were big gains in employment sectors that have been hit hard by the pandemic — professional and business services, retail, leisure and hospitality.

Three million people who were on temporary layoff came back to work, and that helped bring the unemployment rate from the double digits down to 8.4%.

Now, some caveats: About 238,000 of those “new” jobs represent temporary census workers who’ll be out of work again soon. The total also includes a lot of part-time jobs. And job growth is slowing from nearly 5 million a month back in June.

So what does all that tell us about the economy?

This economy has been through a lot since mid-March. About 15% of all the jobs in America evaporated in just a few weeks.

We’ve been clawing back jobs ever since.

“It was good; it wasn’t great,” said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer at Commonwealth Financial Network. “It says we’re continuing to make progress, but we also have a long way to go.”

Gaining 1.4 million jobs would be blockbuster in normal times. But economist Beth Akers at the Manhattan Institute said now, that number “may be giving the misimpression that we’re doing pretty well digging out of this hole. But the reality is that we’re only about halfway out.”

A little over 10 million of the 22 million jobs we’ve lost have come back, and job gains are slowing. Akers said this is really a tale of two recoveries.

“Employment levels for higher-income workers have almost come back to pre-crisis levels, whereas employment levels for low-wage workers remain significantly below where they were,” Akers said. “It’s also unclear when those workers will be able to get back to work.”

Jobs in bars and restaurants, for instance, are still down 25% from before the pandemic, which leaves a lot of workers out of the recovery so far.

Workers like Cody Sorensen. He’s 33 and worked as a server at an upscale Italian restaurant in West Hollywood, California, until mid-March. 

Sorensen’s on indefinite layoff. He’s still getting health benefits and a $400-a-week unemployment check. When that runs out?

“I mean, I’m just going to have to go find another job, or I’m just going to have to move, I guess, back home to Texas,” Sorensen said.

Where he hopes there’ll be less competition for any new jobs that come up.  

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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