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It’s now been a year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic impacts. Although the millions of jobs lost since then have been steadily bouncing back, this month’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that there’s still a long road to recovery ahead. 

After a gain of 166,000 jobs in January (revised from 49,000), nonfarm payroll employment added 379,000 jobs in February. But it’s still over 9 million jobs behind pre-pandemic levels. 

The unemployment rate changed little for the month, dropping from 6.3% to 6.2% and representing 10 million unemployed Americans. The current levels are still significantly higher than February 2020’s unemployment rate (3.5%) and unemployed count (5.7 million). 

Unemployment rates down for most groups

Black/African American workers were disproportionately impacted by job loss in February — the unemployment rate for this demographic rose from 9.2% to 9.9%. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for Asian workers had the greatest decrease for the month, dropping from 6.6% to 5.1%. 

Other groups showed little to no change:

  • Adult men: 6.0% (6.0% in January)
  • Adult women: 5.9% (6.0% in January)
  • Teenagers: 13.9% (14.8% in January)
  • Black/African American: 9.9% (9.2% in January)
  • Hispanic/Latino: 8.5% (8.6% in January)
  • Asian: 5.1% (6.6% in January)
  • White: 5.6% (5.7% in January)

Less short-term, more long-term unemployment

Those experiencing long-term unemployment (unemployed for six months or more) now account for 41.5% of the total unemployed. Long-term employment grew from 4.0 million to 4.1 million people in February and is up by 3.0 million from a year ago. Dropping from 2.3 million to 2.2 million, the number of those who recently lost jobs (unemployed less than five weeks) slightly decreased for the month.

There were 6.9 million job seekers not currently in the labor force in February, down somewhat from 7.0 million in January, but this number is 1.9 million above last year. The labor participation rate remained at 61.4% for the month, 1.9% below February 2020.

The percentage of teleworking employees dropped a bit in February, from 23.2% to 22.7%. Pandemic business closures prevented 13.3 million people from working, and 4.2 million people couldn’t look for work in February due to the pandemic. 

Gains for hospitality, losses for education

As pandemic-related restrictions began to lift, the leisure and hospitality industry gained back 355,000 jobs, following significant losses in January and December. A large majority of those job gains (286,000) were in food services and drinking places. However, leisure and hospitality employment is still behind last year’s levels by 3.5 million, or 20.4%.

Professional and business services gained back 63,000 jobs in February, 53,000 of which were in temporary help services. And retail trade added 41,000 jobs for the month. Although the retail industry lost 2.4 million jobs over March and April 2020, it was able to gain back 2.0 million jobs from May 2020 to February of this year. 

Most of the job loss in February was within local government education (-37,000 jobs), state government education (-32,000 jobs), and construction (-61,000 jobs). The other major industries showed little to no change.

For some industries, cold weather across the country may have impacted job loss. But with spring on the way, we could see improvements in job recovery rates in the coming months.