WASHINGTON (AP) — The American job market is clawing its way back — steadily if slowly — from the devastation inflicted by the coronavirus-caused recession. What no one knows is just how long it might take for workers to be made whole.
In October, the government said Friday, employers added 638,000 jobs. It was a solid gain, more than economists had expected. And it was even stronger than the headline number suggested.
Yet even with last month's hiring, the economy has regained barely 12 million of the 22 million jobs it lost in March and April, when the virus suddenly paralyzed much of the economy.
Now, a surge of confirmed infections to record highs — which could accelerate as the weather gets colder — threatens the tentative economic comeback. So does Congress’ failure to provide another jolt of aid for individuals and businesses now that a multi-trillion-dollar financial rescue package enacted in March has expired.
Much of the job market's improvement thus far comes from businesses bringing back employees they had furloughed in the spring. But many job losses have turned permanent: The number of Americans who have been unemployed for six months or longer jumped by 1.2 million — 48% — in October.
“Our next president will undoubtedly inherit a challenging labor market in which millions of Americans remain unemployed,’’ said Karen Fichuk, CEO of Randstad North America, which manages hiring for technology, engineering and manufacturing companies
Here are five takeaways from the October jobs report:
The unemployment rate tumbled to 6.9% last month from 7.9% in September. That sharp drop occurred even as the number of Americans who are either working or looking for work rose by 724,000.
A big increase like that could cause unemployment to rise. New job seekers, after all, often need time to land a job and would be considered unemployed until they do. But last month, the number of employed Americans actually rose by 2.2 million while the count of unemployed fell by 1.5 million.
An the proportion of Americans who are either working or looking for work — what economists call the labor force participation rate — ticked up to 61.7% from 61.4% in September. Still, it remains down from 63.4% in February, before the virus flattened the economy.
JOB GAINS WERE WIDESPREAD
Companies across an impressively wide range of industries hired in October. Overall, the private sector added a robust 906,000 jobs. That gain offset the loss of 268,000 government jobs, including about 150,000 temporary Census positions.
Leisure and hospitality companies, which include hard-hit restaurants and hotels, added 271,000 jobs last month on top of 406,000 in September. Even with those increases, the sector remains down nearly 3.5 million jobs from February — a testament to the depth of losses in those industries.
Retailers added 104,000 in October. Construction jobs surged by 84,000 as super-low mortgage rates and pent-up demand for houses from people adapting to working from home continued to fuel a housing boom.
Businesses added 109,000 temporary workers, up from a tepid 22,000 in September. That could be a sign of business optimism: Companies often hire temps to test the market before committing to permanent hires.
WOMEN LAGGING IN JOBS RECOVERY
Women, as a group, are continuing to be left behind in the jobs recovery. They accounted for just 280,000, or 44%, of the jobs added last month. Because they work disproportionately in vulnerable jobs —- at restaurants, bars and beauty shops, for instance — women account for 5.5 million, or nearly 55%, of the 10.1 million jobs that remain lost.
Since February, nearly 2.2 million women ages 20 or older have stopped working or looking for a job, versus just 1.4 million men. Some women stopped working to care for children stuck at home until their schools reopen.
JOB PROSPECTS IMPROVED FOR ALL RACES
Last month’s burst of hiring benefited Black, white and Hispanic workers. Compared with September, employment rose by 785,000, or 3%, for Hispanics; by 433,000, or 2.5%, for African Americans; and by nearly 1.7 million, or 1.5%, for whites.
Black and Hispanic Americans were also much more likely than whites to enter the labor market last month.
Still, disparities between races persisted in unemployment: The jobless rate in October was 6% for whites, versus 10.8% for African Americans and 8.8% for Hispanics.
WHO’S WORKING FROM HOME?
Forced to work at home when the pandemic hit hard this spring, many Americans have returned to their offices, stores and other worksites. The Labor Department said 21.2% of Americans were teleworking last month, down from 35.4% back in May.
Who is teleworking? The answer varies widely: 47.4% of Americans with advanced degrees and 35% of those with bachelor’s degrees worked from home. The compares with only 7.1% of workers with only a high school diploma.
More than 35% of Asian Americans worked from home, compared with 20.7% of whites, 17.8% of African Americans and 12.7% of Hispanics. Just 18.8% of men teleworked last month, compared with 24% of women.