COVID-19

Job gains don’t paint a clear picture of the recovery

Sabri Ben-Achour Oct 2, 2020
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A restaurant displays a "Now Hiring" sign amid the coronavirus pandemic, on Aug. 4 in Arlington, Virginia. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Job gains don’t paint a clear picture of the recovery

Sabri Ben-Achour Oct 2, 2020
A restaurant displays a "Now Hiring" sign amid the coronavirus pandemic, on Aug. 4 in Arlington, Virginia. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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The U.S. economy added a seasonally adjusted 661,000 jobs in September, the Labor Department announced Friday. The unemployment rate is down to 7.9%. That’s not bad news.  

But it’s far less impressive than the gains we’ve seen in earlier months, which means that this is where the hard part starts in this recovery.

You can thank Rebecca Hamilton for some of those 661,000 jobs that were created last month. Hamilton is CEO of W.S. Badger, which makes organic skincare products and sunscreen in New Hampshire.  

“We have been hiring,” she said. “The future is very uncertain, but sales continue to be very strong for us.”

But the 661,000 net jobs created obscures the fact that 345,000 jobs were lost permanently. 

“It’s really tough to be a bar owner right now. We closed our doors on March 17, and we haven’t been able to open them since,” said Zack Medford, a bar owner in Raleigh, North Carolina.

He said more and more bars are shutting down for good. Across the United States, job hiring is slowing down, and layoffs and bankruptcies are still with us. 

“Businesses that initially hung on for a while are realizing they have to downsize or even capitulate,” said Seth Carpenter, chief U.S. economist at UBS.

It’s not just small businesses. United and American airlines are laying off 32,000 people, and that’s just two companies. Carpenter said state and local governments are also starting to let people go, especially in education. 

Jason Furman, professor of economic policy at Harvard, has another concern.

“Millions of people have left the workforce,” he said.

Exactly 4.4 million have at this point in the pandemic given up looking for work, he said. This is bad, because that exodus, that form of hopelessness, is really hard to undo.

“After the Great Recession, to get people back into the labor force who had given up and left ’cause of the Great Recession, that process wasn’t even complete at the beginning of 2020 more than a decade into the economic recovery,” he said.

So it appears that we’ll be digging out from this for a while.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

New COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. How are Americans reacting?

Johns Hopkins University reports the seven-day average of new cases hit 68,767 on Sunday  — a record — eclipsing the previous record hit in late July during the second, summer wave of infection. A funny thing is happening with consumers though: Even as COVID-19 cases rise, Americans don’t appear to be shying away from stepping indoors to shop or eat or exercise. Morning Consult asked consumers how comfortable they feel going out to eat, to the shopping mall or on a vacation. And their willingness has been rising. Surveys find consumers’ attitudes vary by age and income, and by political affiliation, said Chris Jackson, who heads up polling at Ipsos.

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

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