COVID & Unemployment

U.S. unemployment rate falls to 8.4% even as hiring slows

David Brancaccio, Meredith Garretson, and Alex Schroeder Sep 4, 2020
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A lot of people who were on temporary furlough actually got their jobs back, including those in the retail sector. Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

U.S. unemployment rate falls to 8.4% even as hiring slows

David Brancaccio, Meredith Garretson, and Alex Schroeder Sep 4, 2020
Heard on:
A lot of people who were on temporary furlough actually got their jobs back, including those in the retail sector. Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images
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The U.S. unemployment rate fell sharply in August to 8.4%  from 10.2%, even as hiring slowed in August as employers added the fewest jobs since the pandemic began. Employers added 1.4 million jobs, the Labor Department said Friday, down from 1.7 million in July.

The U.S. economy has recovered about half the 22 million jobs lost to the pandemic.

Julia Coronado, president and founder of MacroPolicy Perspectives, spoke with “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

David Brancaccio: So you spotted right away who was doing a lot of the hiring. The answer is?

Julia Coronado: The census. So we were expecting the census to add a lot of jobs. These are temporary census data collectors. They added more than 200,000 jobs. If we look, excluding census, at the private sector hiring that was about a million jobs. That’s down from 1.5 million in July. So a little bit of loss of momentum and hiring.

Brancaccio: A little bit of a loss of momentum. And it looks like a lot of people who were on temporary furlough, but still tenuously connected to their old jobs, actually got their jobs back.

Coronado: Yes, that is still the story here. Lots of reconnections. The retail sector, for example, added 250,000 workers. So there is still lots of reconnections going on. And, in the coming months, what we’re going to be looking for is whether there are more permanent layoffs underway. We’re seeing lots of company announcements along those lines.

Brancaccio: What accounts for the unemployment rate falling to a lower-than-expected 8.4%?

Coronado: Good hiring numbers are driving the unemployment rate lower. It was a little bit more than expected. What we’re not seeing is people leaving the labor force, which could actually push the unemployment rate lower. The participation rate actually rose a little bit in August.

With reporting from The Associated Press

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 continues 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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