Showing signs that the U.S. economy is settling in for a slow and steady recovery after a three month stretch of a rapid rebound, the U.S. economy added 1.4 million non-farm jobs in August and unemployment fell to 8.4 percent in U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data reported today.
The job growth slightly exceeded economist forecasts and represents a solid gain but the smallest in four months.
“Today’s report reinforces the cautious optimism our Network of over 325 executive recruitment offices have about ongoing demand for top talent through the balance of 2020,” said Bert Miller, president and CEO of MRINetwork. “The positive momentum in U.S. job creation reinforces our Network’s decision to invest in the digital tools and education that talent advisory and search firms need in the changing world of work to accelerate growth in their businesses.”
The BLS reported total non-farm employment rose by 1.4 million in August, and the number of unemployed persons fell by 2.8 million to 13.6 million. Both measures have declined for four consecutive months but are higher than pre-virus February by 4.9 percentage points and 7.8 million, respectively. The labor force participation rate increased by 0.3 percentage point to 61.7 percent in August,1.7 percentage points below the February period.
“We are still moving in the right direction and the pace of the jobs recovery seems to have picked up, but it still looks like it will take a while – and likely a vaccine – before we get back close to where we were at the beginning of this year,” said Tony Bedikian, head of global markets at Citizens Bank in comments to Fox Business.
In August, 24.3 percent of employed persons teleworked because of the coronavirus, down from 26.4 percent in July indicating an uptick in the rate of return to a workplace environment.
According to the BLS, notable job gains in August included government employment, largely reflecting temporary hiring for the 2020 Census. Notable job gains also occurred in retail trade, in professional and business services, in leisure and hospitality, and in education and health services.
“Employment growth is still set to lag the recovery in broader economic activity over the coming months given its greater exposure to the services sectors worst affected by the pandemic,” noted Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics in comments to CNBC. “Nevertheless, the August data illustrate that, despite the earlier surge in virus cases and more recent fading of fiscal support, the recovery continues to plow on.”
Employment in government increased by 344,000 in August, accounting for one-fourth of the over-the-month gain in total nonfarm employment. Job gains in federal government (+251,000) reflected the hiring of 238,000 temporary 2020 Census workers. Local government employment rose by 95,000 over the month. Overall, government employment is 831,000 below its February level.
Retail trade added 249,000 jobs in August, with almost half the growth occurring in general merchandise stores (+116,000). Notable gains also occurred in motor vehicle and parts dealers (+22,000), electronics and appliance stores (+21,000), and miscellaneous store retailers (+17,000).
In August, employment in professional and business services increased by 197,000. More than half of the gain occurred in temporary help services (+107,000). Architectural and engineering services (+14,000), business support services (+13,000), and computer systems design and related services (+13,000) also added jobs over the month. Employment in professional and business services is 1.5 million below its February level.
Employment in leisure and hospitality increased by 174,000 in August, with about three-fourths of the gain occurring in food services and drinking places (+134,000). Despite job gains totaling 3.6 million over the last 4 months, employment in food services and drinking places is down by 2.5 million since February as coronavirus restrictions mandate limits on facility capacity.
In August, employment in education and health services increased by 147,000 but is 1.5 million below February’s level. Healthcare employment increased by 75,000 over the month, with gains in offices of physicians (+27,000), offices of dentists (+22,000), hospitals (+14,000), and home healthcare services (+12,000). Elsewhere in healthcare, job losses continued in nursing and residential care facilities (-14,000). Employment in private education rose by 57,000 over the month.
Employment in transportation and warehousing rose by 78,000 in August, with gains in warehousing and storage (+34,000), transit and ground passenger transportation (+11,000), and truck transportation (+10,000). Employment in transportation and warehousing is down by 381,000 since February.
Financial activities added 36,000 jobs in August, with most of the growth in real estate and rental and leasing (+23,000).