Labor & Workforce

US jobless rate in February falls to lowest level since onset of pandemic

Washington, Mar 5 (efe-epa).- The United States’ unemployment rate fell one-tenth of a percentage point in February to a seasonally adjusted 6.2 percent, its lowest monthly level since the coronavirus pandemic began battering the world’s largest economy in March 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday.

That result was due in part to the creation of 379,000 nonfarm jobs, according to that Labor Department unit, a surprisingly robust number that easily eclipsed the revised total of 166,000 new hirings in January.

Food services and drinking places accounted for roughly three-fourths of the increase (286,000) as the robust vaccine rollout in the US has enabled a steady lifting of restrictions on those establishments.

“The labor market continued to reflect the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Employment rose sharply in leisure and hospitality. Notable job gains also occurred in temporary help services, health care and social assistance, retail trade and manufacturing,” BLS Commissioner William Beach said in a statement.

He noted that both the official unemployment rate of 6.2 percent and the number of employed people – 10 million – are still well above the February 2020 pre-pandemic levels of 3.5 percent and 5.7 million, respectively.

The official jobless rate, which last year skyrocketed from 3.5 percent in February to 14.7 percent in April due to states’ coronavirus-triggered stay-at-home orders and mandatory shutdowns of non-essential businesses, has fallen nearly every month since then.

But in the last three months of 2020, that headline rate (known as the U-3 rate) had held steady at just under 7 percent as the job market began to stagnate.

The official jobless rate in February was slightly lower than anticipated, as leading private-sector economists had expected it to remain unchanged from January at 6.3 percent.

The broader U-6 measure of unemployment, which includes people working part-time who would prefer a full-time position and workers who have given up looking for a job, came in at a seasonally adjusted 11.1 percent last month, unchanged from January.

Despite the solid increase in hirings in February, the proportion of the working-age population that is either employed or actively seeking employment, known as the labor-force participation rate, remained unchanged from previous months at 61.4 percent.

That figure is indicative of both a slow job market recovery and the challenge of boosting the number of people actively looking for work.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell referred to this problem in a virtual appearance on Thursday at The Wall Street Journal Jobs Summit.

“We’ve had the sharpest drop in labor-force participation in many decades coming out of the pandemic. And that just means that there are quite a few people who are technically out of the labor force but were working in February,” Powell said.

“So some of them will have retired, but the vast bulk of them actually want to go back to work – but they’re not currently looking because perhaps the business where they worked is still temporarily closed or permanently closed,” he added.

The head of the US central banking system also said at that jobs summit that it is “highly unlikely” the unemployment rate will return this year to the pre-pandemic maximum employment level (of around 3.5 percent).

Apart from food services and drinking places (part of the broader category of leisure and hospitality), health care and social assistance added 46,000 jobs and employment in the retail trade rose by 41,000, with general merchandise stores (+14,000) leading the way.

Those gains were partially offset by the loss of around 20,000 jobs at clothing and clothing accessory stores.

The BLS’s report also said that US workers’ average hourly earnings rose to $30.01 last month, up $0.07 from January. EFE-EPA

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