September 7, 2021 – Employment rose by 235,000 in August as the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report. So far this year, monthly job growth has averaged 586,000. In August, notable job gains occurred in professional and business services, transportation and warehousing, private education, manufacturing, and other services. Employment in retail trade declined over the month. The number of unemployed persons edged down to 8.4 million, following a large decrease in July. Both measures are down considerably from their highs at the end of the February-April 2020 recession. However, they remained above their levels prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (3.5 percent and 5.7 million.
Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (5.1 percent) and whites (4.5 percent) declined in August, while the rate for teenagers (11.2 percent) increased. The jobless rates for adult women (4.8 percent), blacks (8.8 percent), Asians (4.6 percent) and Hispanics (6.4 percent) showed little change over the month.
Among the unemployed, the number of permanent job losers declined by 443,000 to 2.5 million in August but was 1.2 million higher than in February 2020. The number of persons on temporary layoff, at 1.3 million, was essentially unchanged in August. This measure was down considerably from the high of 18 million in April 2020 but was 502,000 above the February 2020 level. The number of reentrants to the labor force increased by 200,000 in August to 2.5 million In August, the number of persons employed part time for economic reasons, at 4.5 million, was essentially unchanged. There were 4.4 million persons in this category in February 2020. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been reduced or they were unable to find full-time jobs.
Job Seeking Hesitancy
“While it looked like a gradual return to normal was on the horizon, rising COVID-19 infection rates are fostering hesitancy among jobseekers, pushing back return-to-work plans and causing job growth to stagnate,” said Michael Smith, global CEO of Randstad Sourceright. “Especially as federal unemployment benefits expire for millions of workers; employers must look to how they can attract individuals who may be reluctant to re-enter the workforce.”
“Utilizing contingent workers rather than solely relying on full-time hires can be a prudent approach for many organizations in both the short- and long-term, while improved compensation and the ability to work from home can be huge selling points for many employers looking to entice workers back into the labor force,” Mr. Smith said. “Additionally, the successful adoption of remote work during the pandemic should serve as a reminder to organizations that they can recruit talent who may not live geographically close to their office.”
Where Job Growth Occurred
- Employment in professional and business services increased by 74,000 in August. Employment rose in architectural and engineering services (+19,000), computer systems design and related services (+10,000), scientific research and development services (+7,000), and office administrative services (+6,000). Since February 2020, employment in professional and business services was down by 468,000, over half of which was in temporary help services (-262,000).
- Transportation and warehousing added 53,000 jobs in August, bringing employment in the industry slightly above (+22,000) its pre-pandemic level in February 2020. Employment gains have been led by strong growth in couriers and messengers and in warehousing and storage, which added 20,000 jobs each in August. Air transportation also added jobs (+11,000), while transit and ground passenger transportation—which includes school buses—lost jobs (-8,000).
- In August, employment increased by 40,000 in private education, declined by 21,000 in state government education, and changed little in local government education (-6,000). In all three industries, these employment changes followed job gains in June and July. August marks the beginning of the traditional back-to-school season. However, recent employment changes are challenging to interpret, as pandemic-related staffing fluctuations in public and private education have distorted the normal seasonal hiring and layoff patterns. Since February 2020, employment was down by 159,000 in private education, by 186,000 in state government education and by 220,000 in local government education.
- Manufacturing added 37,000 jobs in August, with gains in motor vehicles and parts (+24,000) and fabricated metal products (+7,000). Employment in manufacturing was down by 378,000 from its pre-pandemic level in February 2020.
- The other services industry added 37,000 jobs in August, but employment was 189,000 lower than in February 2020. In August, employment rose in personal and laundry services (+19,000) and in repair and maintenance (+9,000).
- Employment in information increased by 17,000 in August, reflecting a gain in data processing, hosting, and related services (+12,000). Employment in information was down by 150,000 since February 2020.
- Employment in financial activities rose by 16,000 over the month, with most of the gain occurring in real estate (+11,000). Employment in financial activities was down by 29,000 since February 2020.
- Mining added 6,000 jobs in August, reflecting a gain in support activities for mining (+4,000). Mining employment rose by 55,000 since a trough in August 2020 but was 96,000 below a peak in January 2019.
- Employment in retail trade declined by 29,000 in August, with losses in food and beverage stores (-23,000) and in building material and garden supply stores (-13,000). Retail trade employment was down by 285,000 since February 2020.
- In August, employment in leisure and hospitality was unchanged, after increasing by an average of 350,000 per month over the prior six months. In August, a job gain in arts, entertainment and recreation (+36,000) was more than offset by a loss in food services and drinking places (-42,000). Employment in leisure and hospitality was down by 1.7 million, or 10 percent, since February 2020.
- In August, employment showed little change in other major industries, including construction, wholesale trade and healthcare.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media