WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — America’s employers added more than half a million jobs in October, the most since July and a sign that the recovery from the pandemic recession may be overcoming a virus-induced slowdown.
The report, issued by the Department of Labor on Friday, also showed that the overall unemployment rate fell from 4.8% to 4.6%. That is a comparatively low level, but still well above the pre-pandemic jobless rate of 3.5%. This follows two months of a disappointing rate of hiring.
“America’s getting back to work,” President Joe Biden said at remarks Friday. Biden said continued economic recovery depends on increased vaccination rates and keeping COVID cases down.
Biden also encouraged Congress to pass his $1.85 trillion Build Back Better domestic policy package and the $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
“Passing these bills will say clearly to the American people we hear your voices. We are going to invest in your hopes and help you secure a brighter future for yourself and your family,” Biden said. “I’m asking every House member to vote yes on both of those bills right now. Let’s build on our incredible economic progress. Let’s show the world that the American economy will deliver and propel the economy forward.”
The economy’s emergence from the pandemic, by most measures, remains on course. Services companies in such areas as retail, banks and warehousing have reported a sharp jump in sales.
Still, the recovery would gain strength from a sustained acceleration in hiring. The economy grew at a healthy 6.5% annual rate in the first half of the year as vaccinations spread and Americans showed themselves more willing to travel, shop, eat out and attend entertainment events. Yet the delta variant held economic growth in the July-September quarter to just a 2% annual rate and sharply slowed hiring.
Recent economic gauges have cast a hopeful picture. After several rounds of stimulus checks and other government support payments, Americans as a whole have amassed about $2.5 trillion more in savings than they had before the pandemic. As that money is spent, it will likely fuel further economic activity.
Yet some companies say they still can’t find enough workers to fill jobs. Many parents, particularly mothers, haven’t returned to the workforce after having left jobs during the pandemic to care for children or other relatives. Defying the predictions of some, the expiration of a $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement hasn’t caused more people to look for work. Roughly 5 million fewer people have jobs now than did before the pandemic.
Most economists say they’re hopeful that with vaccinations helping to suppress the delta wave, more people will seek and find jobs because they’re no longer sick or caring for someone who is or because they no longer fear becoming infected. Those health issues had sidelined more people in September than in previous months.
Rising inflation, though, has eroded much of the value of those pay increases and has become the most serious headwind for the U.S. economy. Higher costs for food, heating oil, rents and furniture have burdened millions of families. Prices rose 4.4% in September compared with 12 months earlier, the sharpest such increase in three decades.
That inflation surge was a key reason why the Federal Reserve announced this week that it would begin winding down the stimulus it has given the economy since the pandemic recession struck last year. The Fed will do so by reducing its monthly bond purchases, which have been intended to hold down long-term interest rates to spur borrowing and spending.
Chair Jerome Powell suggested that it won’t be possible to gain a clear picture of the job market’s health until the impact of COVID-19 declines further, which could take months.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.