Young people sitting in half-empty office during coronavirus period and using modern devices

The US job market continues to recover little by little and has now gained back more than half of the 22 million jobs lost at the start of the pandemic. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation’s unemployment rate, which was 7.9% in September, dropped to 6.9% in October. With another 638,000 nonfarm jobs added last month and more furloughed employees returning to work, economic improvement is steady, but slow. 

Positive movement for all

Though racial, age, and gender disparities still exist, unemployment rates declined for all worker groups in October:

  • Adult men: 6.7% (7.4% in September)
  • Adult women: 6.5% (7.7% in September)
  • Teenagers: 13.9% (15.9% in September)
  • Black/African American: 10.8% (12.1% in September)
  • Hispanic/Latino: 8.8% (10.3% in September)
  • Asian: 7.6% (8.9% in September)
  • White: 6.0% (7.0% in September)

In addition, more Black and Hispanic Americans (568,000) entered the job market than white workers (481,000) last month. And although 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce in September, they entered the workforce at almost double the rate of men in October (480,000 compared to 266,000).

More gains for the hardest-hit industries

Industries that lost the most jobs during the recession are steadily rebuilding. Although still behind by 3.5 million jobs compared to February, leisure and hospitality gained back 271,000 jobs in October, thanks to 192,000 jobs in food services and drinking places. And retail trade added 104,000 jobs, leaving the sector with about 500,000 jobs left to reach its pre-pandemic status.

Most of the other industries also experienced job growth, including: 

  • Professional and business services: 208,000 
  • Construction: 84,000
  • Health care and social assistance: 79,000
  • Transportation and warehousing: 63,000 

Government, however, dropped 268,000 jobs in October, partially due to a loss of 147,000 temporary Census workers.

Challenges and uncertainties remain

Despite the positive employment trends, the job market has a long way to go to get back to normal: 

  • Women are still well behind men when it comes to gaining back lost jobs. Of the 638,000 jobs added in October, women only account for 280,000 (44%). And they’re still 5.5 million jobs behind February’s numbers.
  • More Americans are facing long-term unemployment — in October, another 1.2 million joined those who have been unemployed for six months or more, bringing the total to 3.6 million (32.5% of total unemployed).
  • Unfortunately, the pandemic is far from over. Recent surges in COVID-19 cases may hinder job growth, especially in the most vulnerable industries.