The economy, which had rebounded sharply in the July-September quarter as businesses reopened from virus-related shutdowns, is now expanding more slowly. Jason Connolly/AFP via Getty Images
Unemployment 2020

Unemployment drops to 6.9% and U.S. adds 638,000 jobs

Associated Press Nov 6, 2020
The economy, which had rebounded sharply in the July-September quarter as businesses reopened from virus-related shutdowns, is now expanding more slowly. Jason Connolly/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. employers added 638,000 jobs in October, a solid pace though far fewer than needed to regain most of the jobs lost to the pandemic recession just as new viral cases are setting record highs.

The gain suggested that a tentative economic recovery may remain intact even in the face of a surging viral outbreak.

The report Friday from the Labor Department said the unemployment rate fell to 6.9% from 7.9% in September. But eight months after the virus struck the United States, the economy still has recovered barely half the 22 million jobs that were lost to the pandemic.

The job market and the overall economy are under intense pressure from the accelerating pandemic. On Thursday, the nation broke another record in the seven-day rolling average for new cases, hitting nearly 90,000. Daily new cases were also on track for another day above 100,000, with surging numbers reported all around the country, including a combined nearly 25,000 in Texas, Illinois and Florida.

The economy, which had rebounded sharply in the July-September quarter as businesses reopened from virus-related shutdowns, is now expanding more slowly. Many businesses, especially restaurants and bars that had made use of outdoor seating, face a dim future as the weather turns colder. Consumers may also pull back again on shopping, traveling and other activities to avoid contracting the virus.

Friday’s report follows the expiration of government stimulus for struggling individuals, businesses and state and local governments and the failure of Congress to provide further aid.

Consumer spending on services like restaurants, health care and haircuts is rising much more slowly this fall after having rebounded in May and June. It remains 7% below the pre-pandemic level — a decline that threatens many labor-intensive parts of the economy. The restaurant reservations website OpenTable shows, for example, that just three-quarters of restaurants are now taking reservations, a decline from three weeks ago.

The slowdown has coincided with the waning of $1,200 checks that were sent to most adults in the spring and a $600-a-week federal jobless benefit that expired in July. That was followed by an additional $300 that lasted through mid-September. A study by JPMorgan Chase found that Americans spent roughly two-thirds of such money by the end of August.

“The economy is on its own against the virus,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the job-posting website Indeed. “Accelerating cases are an ever-present threat during winter, and a virus surge means economic uncertainty for businesses. Until that uncertainty is eliminated, the labor market will struggle to return to what it used to be.”

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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