Mixed race of African black and asian businesswoman office worker wear face mask working in new normal office with social distance to colleague in background prevent coronavirus COVID-19 spreading.

A surge in COVID-19 cases toward the end of 2020 interrupted the US job market’s steady recovery. After seven consecutive months of job gains and an addition of 245,000 jobs in November, nonfarm payroll employment lost 140,000 jobs in December, according to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

The unemployment rate remained at 6.7% for the month, with 10.7 million Americans jobless and the nation still 9.8 million jobs short of February’s status.

Unemployment rises alongside COVID cases

The number of workers who’ve been unemployed for six months or more changed little in December, remaining at roughly 4.0 million (37% of the total unemployed). Since February, this number has increased by 2.8 million. Meanwhile, Americans who recently became jobless (unemployed for less than five weeks) added 449,000 people to their ranks in December, bringing the total to 2.9 million.

The number of those who aren’t currently in the labor force but are actively seeking a job is now at 7.3 million after the addition of another 200,000 people. However, the labor participation rate remained at 61.5% for the month.

Pandemic concerns heightened in December, increasing the number of employees who teleworked from 21.8% to 23.7%. Nearly 16 million people couldn’t work due to business closures, and 4.6 million people weren’t able to look for work because of the pandemic (up from 3.9 million in November).

Unemployment rates still disproportionate

Changes in unemployment rates varied among different racial, age, and gender demographics in December:

  • Adult men: 6.4% (6.7% in November)
  • Adult women: 6.3% (6.1% in November)
  • Teenagers: 16% (14% in November)
  • Black/African American: 9.9% (10.3% in November)
  • Hispanic/Latino: 9.3% (8.4% in November)
  • Asian: 5.9% (6.7% in November)
  • White: 6.0% (5.9% in November)

Teenage and Hispanic workers experienced the most significant unemployment increases for the month. Women also lost employment in December, while the rate of unemployment for men improved slightly. 

Job loss in hospitality, gains in retail

Not surprisingly, most of the job loss in December occurred in the leisure and hospitality industry. With many establishments again shutting down and business decreasing, the industry lost 498,000 jobs — 372,000 of those jobs were in food services and drinking places.

Other declines included private education (-63,000 jobs), government (-45,000), and other services (-22,000 jobs). 

To counterbalance that loss, many of the remaining industries gained jobs in December, including: 

  • Professional and business services: 161,000 (60,000 in November) 
  • Retail trade: 121,000 (-35,000 in November)
  • Construction: 51,000 (27,000 in November)
  • Transportation and warehousing: 47,000 (145,000 in November)
  • Health care: 39,000 (46,000 in November)

While December’s lack of progress is discouraging, the end to the economic crisis may not be far off. Priority groups are beginning to receive their COVID-19 vaccines and Americans are receiving the next round of government relief efforts.