February 2022 Jobs Report – The Washington Post

The pink image caps a streak of 10 straight months of strong growth, with the economy creating a record 7 million jobs over the past year and paving the way for a full recovery by this summer, a little more than two years after the plunge of the pandemic. the country in recession.

“Covid is loosening its grip. The virus has ruled by fear, and that fear is fading,” said Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economics professor and former White House adviser to Obama. “You see this across the country as people are ready to go back to jobs they weren’t ready to take in the middle of the pandemic.”

Job gains continued to be most pronounced in service industries, such as hospitality, healthcare and construction, which struggled to hire enough workers to meet surging demand. boom.

“We’ve seen broad-based gains across all industries — in trucking, warehousing, construction, recreation and hospitality, even in nursing homes,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in an interview. “Ninety percent of the jobs lost in March and April 2020 have been recovered.”

Friday’s jobs report was based on surveys conducted in mid-February before Russia invaded Ukraine and does not reflect the effect of the geopolitical crisis on the US labor market. And while economists say it’s unclear exactly how the war could affect American jobs, they note that soaring energy prices, slowing consumer spending or looming uncertainty could prompt companies to suspend hiring in the coming weeks.

For now, workers are returning to the labor market. The unemployment rate, which only counts those who have actively sought work in the past month, is at its lowest level in two years. A broader measure of unemployment, which includes those who want a job but are not actively looking, fell to 4.7% in February, approaching its pre-crisis rate of 4.3%.

“People are going back to work,” said Nick Bunker, an economist at job site Indeed. “We’ve been seeing this trend since last fall, but it’s become very noticeable recently, especially among people of working age, between the ages of 25 and 54.”

But the gains were not evenly distributed. The unemployment rate for black women rose to 6.1% in February, as tens of thousands of women left the workforce. Overall, fewer women were working or looking for work in February than in January, while male participation rates peaked during the pandemic. Additionally, unemployment rates for black and Hispanic workers — 6.6% and 4.4%, respectively — remain significantly higher than for other groups.

“This is a very strong jobs report, but the picture is mixed,” said Nela Richardson, chief economist at ADP. “We are still not at the end of the mission.”

The economy is still short of 2.1 million jobs at pre-pandemic levels, although economists say the gap is likely close this summer if hiring keeps pace with recent gains.

Yet the tight labor market – in which job offers continue to outnumber job seekers – has forced companies to change their recruiting and hiring strategies. Employers of all kinds are speeding up their hiring processes and, in some cases, promising on-the-spot offers to retain candidates, especially in retail and hospitality. The Home Depot, for example, which plans to hire 100,000 employees by the spring, touts a “fast-track hiring process” that could land applicants an offer within 24 hours of applying.

In Mesa, Arizona, Inwook Kim got a job less than two weeks after applying for a job as a graphic designer at a computer consulting firm. He was pleasantly surprised, he says, by the smoothness of the process and the fact that he is making much more money than in his last job.

“They wanted to hire someone very quickly,” said the 30-something. “I had two interviews, and that’s it.”

But some economists say the tide could be turning. The dramatic rebound in hiring in February, combined with stalled wage growth, could signal a shift in the labor market.

“One of the consequences of people getting back into the workforce is that employers will be less desperate to find the workers they want,” said Elise Gould, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank from left. “There could be a cost to wage growth in the near future.”

For now, the strong jobs report is increasing pressure on the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates when it meets later this month and contributing to fears that labor markets tensions are fueling inflation, which has already reached its highest level in 40 years. Fed Chairman Jerome H. Powell told lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week that the central bank plans to raise interest rates even as the fallout from the Russian-Ukrainian war on the U.S. economy remains ” very uncertain”.

“It’s appropriate for us to move forward,” Powell said Wednesday. “Inflation is high, too high.”

The pandemic dealt a sudden blow to the labor market, sending the unemployment rate soaring into double digits at the start of 2020 as employers of all sizes laid off and laid off workers. But in the months that followed, companies quickly hired workers. In another positive sign, the number of Americans filing for unemployment – 215,000 last week – fell to its lowest level since Jan. 1, the Labor Department said Thursday.

“We saw record job gains in 2021, setting us up for 2022 where labor market fundamentals are still very strong,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at job site Glassdoor.

Service jobs were among the hardest hit early in the pandemic, when temporary shutdowns and stay-at-home orders forced companies to lay off or lay off millions of workers. Many of these sectors are now seeing significant rebounds as people return to the workforce. Nursing homes, for example, which lost more than 90,000 staff in the first three months of the pandemic, added 1,600 jobs last month, a rare glimmer of good news for the industry.

Linda Austin, who co-owns a retirement home in Lafayette, Tennessee, has struggled to find employees throughout the pandemic. Last month, she breathed a sigh of relief when she finally managed to fill two vacancies, for a housekeeper and a nursing assistant. But one of these two new recruits has already quit, leaving her with more than a dozen vacancies at Knollwood Manor.

“Before, we had no problem getting people to come and work here, but now we don’t get any candidates,” she said. “People just aren’t interested. We need a miracle and a magic wand.”

Sabrina Zanolini recently landed a job as a software engineer in Philadelphia after two months of research. She applied for around 50 jobs and had six interviews before receiving an offer from defense giant Lockheed Martin.

“It took a while to find entry-level openings, but once I did, it happened really quickly,” said Zanolini, 22, a Penn State graduate in December. “Almost all of my friends – nine out of 10 of them – were able to find full-time jobs almost immediately after school.

But some economists said the upbeat report does not mean the economic recovery is a done deal, especially as Russia’s war on Ukraine creates further uncertainty for global markets, as well as for commodity prices. food and energy.

“It was, no doubt, a good jobs report, but it’s definitely not sustainable,” said Joe Lavorgna, chief economist for the Americas at Natixis and former Trump White House economic adviser. . “Eventually it will slow down – and it could be sooner than we think because of what is happening abroad. The chances of recession risk are increasing.

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