The United States economy added 379,000 jobs in February according to the Labor Department’s jobs report on Friday, continuing optimism of an economic recovery in 2021 after job losses closed out 2020.
The unemployment rate fell to 6.2%, which is down significantly from the high of 19.2% in April, but still much higher than the 3.5% rate in December 2019. The rate could also still understate the degree of job loss a year into the pandemic, some economist say, because millions of Americans, particularly women, have dropped out of the labor force for various reasons, including child care needs.
There were large job gains in the leisure and hospitality sector, which includes restaurants, adding 355,000 jobs. The sector lost 61,000 jobs in January, following a steep decline of 536,000 in December. There were also smaller gains in temporary help services, health care, retail and manufacturing.
“As we reopen the economy, inch-by-inch, that will unleash consumer spending and drive job growth, especially industries that have been most severely affected by the pandemic, Nela Richardson, a Ph.D. economist at HR software firm Automatic Data Processing Inc. told The Wall Street Journal.
Reduced business restrictions, increased vaccination and a lower level of COVID-19 infections relative to the previous two months are considered contributing factors to what was a surprisingly optimistic jobs report. All three factors are likely to gain positive momentum in the coming months, which should lead to hiring surges in the hospitality industry that lost some 4 million jobs last year, Richardson said.
The Congressional Budget Office and many economists expect it will take until 2024 to fully recoup jobs lost during the pandemic.
Hiring is likely to spring back even stronger in the months ahead as the weather warms and Americans fell more confident traveling, dining out, going to a game or visiting a museum or amusement park.
“With vaccine distribution continuing to accelerate and with the economy in the initial stages of a reopening, the coming months should see robust gains,” Curt Long, chief economist at the National Association of Federally Insured Credit Unions, told MarketWatch.
About the Author
Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.