A man walks past a "Now Hiring" sign in front of a store on Dec. 1, 2020 in Arlington, Va. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

U.S. sees hiring slowdown for fifth consecutive month

Associated Press Dec 4, 2020
A man walks past a "Now Hiring" sign in front of a store on Dec. 1, 2020 in Arlington, Va. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

America’s employers scaled back their hiring last month as the viral pandemic accelerated across the country, adding 245,000 jobs, the fewest since April and the fifth straight monthly slowdown.

At the same time, the unemployment rate to a still-high 6.7%, from 6.9% in October, the Labor Department said. November’s job gain was down from 610,000 in October.

Friday’s report of another slowdown in hiring was the latest evidence that the job market and the economy are faltering in the face of a virus that has been shattering daily records for confirmed infections.

Before the pandemic, last month’s gains would have been considered healthy. But the U.S. economy is still roughly 10 million jobs below its pre-pandemic level, with a rising proportion of the unemployed describing their jobs as gone for good. Faster hiring is needed to ensure that people who were laid off during the pandemic recession can quickly get back to work.

Two enhanced federal unemployment benefits programs are set to expire at the end of December — just as viral cases are surging and colder weather is shutting down outdoor dining and many public events. Unless Congress enacts another rescue aid package, more than 9 million unemployed people will be left without any jobless aid, state or federal, beginning after Christmas.

Friday’s report coincides with renewed efforts in Congress to reach a deal on a new rescue aid package. A bipartisan group of senators has proposed a $900 billion plan that would include expanded unemployment benefits, more small business loans and aid to state and local governments. But there are no signs of any imminent agreement.

The gravest threat to the economy remains the raging virus, and most experts say any economic recovery depends on how fast an effective vaccine can be widely distributed and used. U.S. deaths from the coronavirus topped 3,100 Wednesday, a new high, with more than 100,000 Americans hospitalized with the disease, also a record, and new daily cases topping 200,000. In response, at least 12 states have imposed new restrictions on businesses in the past month, according to an Associated Press tally.

For now, there are signs that the economic recovery is stumbling. Consumer spending grew in October at the slowest pace in six months. Seated diners at restaurants are declining again, according to data from the reservations website OpenTable. And a Fed report on business conditions found that growth cooled last month in several Midwest regions and in the Fed’s Philadelphia district.

Still, the full impact of the worsening pandemic may not be evident in Friday’s jobs report, which measures hiring trends in the middle of the month. Some state restrictions weren’t imposed until later in November. As a result, some economists say the worst consequences of the pandemic won’t appear until the December jobs report is issued in early January.

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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