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: Marketplace
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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
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

With a slow vaccine rollout so far, how has the government changed its approach?

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced changes to how the federal government is distributing vaccine doses. The CDC has expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone 65 and older, along with people with conditions that might raise their risks of complications from COVID-19. The new approach also looks to reward those states that are the most efficient by giving them more doses, but critics say that won’t address underlying problems some states are having with vaccine rollout.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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