America’s jobs recovery gathered some steam last month as US employers added 531,000 positions in October.
The unemployment rate fell to 4.6%, the lowest level since the economic recovery started in May 2020.
The number of jobs added in October easily outpaced economists’ prediction of 450,000 jobs. It marked the first month since July that the official number didn’t undercut the consensus estimate.
The US economy gained jobs across the board last month, with leisure and hospitality, manufacturing and transportation and warehousing leading the job gains. The leisure and hospitality sector was hit hardest during the pandemic recession and is still 1.4 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic level.
October’s jobs report marks a turning point after two months of sluggish job gains, slowed by rising coronavirus cases as the Delta variant raged across the globe.
“This is the kind of recovery we can get when we are not sidelined by a surge in Covid cases,” said Nick Bunker, economic research director at Indeed.
“The labor market is not yet fully recovered from the coronavirus-induced recession. But today’s report is a sign that recovery could be closer than many thought,” he said.
The nation has come a long way since the height of the pandemic. More than 18 million jobs have been added back since the recovery started, still leaving America short 4.2 million jobs compared with February 2020.
And the late summer months weren’t quite as bad as they initially appeared: The Labor Department revised August and September’s reports higher by a combined 235,000 jobs. The US economy added 795,000 jobs in August and September – not bad for a so-called lull.
People on the sidelines
That said, there are still millions of people sitting on the sidelines of this tight labor market, unable to rejoin the labor force because of care responsibilities at home or worries about contracting the virus.
The number of people who weren’t in the workforce but want a job stood at 6 million last month, still nearly 1 million higher than before the pandemic. The number of people who said the pandemic kept them from looking for work in October fell to 1.3 million from 1.6 million in September.
America’s labor force participation rate stood at 61.6% in October, still 1.7 percentage points before the February 2020 level.
Earlier this week, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell noted the participation rate was a key point for the central bank’s assessment of the health of the recovering jobs market, and that it was still too low.
Although the recovery has picked up its pace, it remains uneven: The drop in the unemployment rate was led by job gains for men, particularly White and Hispanic workers.
The overall jobless rates for Black and Asian and workers were unchanged last month.