• Peter Osborne

So was the February jobs report good news or bad?

On the surface, the February 2021 jobs report had good news and bad news.

  • The Good: Nonfarm payrolls increased by 379,000 during the month -- versus a Dow Jones estimate of 210,000, with most of the hiring coming in the hospitality sector, which saw 355,000 new jobs. The overall unemployment rate fell to 6.2%, which was a bit lower than the predicted 6.3%.

  • The Bad: The Black unemployment rate jumped to 9.9% from 9.2% in January; education, construction, nursing, and mining all saw job declines; and the numbers remain bleak for people -- particularly women -- who have left the labor force and are not looking for work.

U.S. economic activity picked up in February with Covid-19 cases steadily dropping and vaccine rollouts providing hope for more growth.


The economy has lost about 9.5 million jobs since the pandemic began a year ago, with about 54% of those jobs once held by women.


The challenges are both gender- and racial-based. White women’s unemployment rate is 5.2% and for white men, it’s 5.3%, compared to a pre-pandemic rate of about 3% for both, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on March 5



Chart by CNBC


Federal Reserve officials have been watching the jobs numbers closely not only for overall growth in payrolls and a drop in the unemployment rate but also for the breadth of the jobs recovery. The central bank has pledged not to raise interest rates until it sees the gains spread across income, gender and racial lines, even if that means risking higher inflation.


And the story there isn’t showing much sign of improvement. Black women were the only group of women to see their unemployment rate rise significantly during the month – up to 8.9% from 8.5% in January. In addition, 11,000 Black women left the workforce last month, while other groups added thousands of workers. For Black women, the unemployment rate has increased over the past two months. Latinas have an unemployment rate of 8.5%. The only group whose rate is higher is Black men with 10.2%.


Unemployment rates don’t tell the whole story. The job numbers don’t count workers who have left the labor force and are not looking for work, in many cases because the pandemic has barred them from doing so. That is the case for many women who were forced out of jobs because of childcare responsibilities.


If those women were counted, the unemployment rate for women overall would be 8.8% instead of 5.9%, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center. For Black women it would be 14.1% and for Latinas it would be as high as 13.1%.


Meanwhile, the share of people who are long-term unemployed — those without work for more than six months — continues to grow. In February, it was 4.1 million, making up nearly 42 percent of the unemployed. The longer workers are out of the labor force, the harder it is for them to rejoin it, and rejoin it in a similar position or for similar pay as they received before.


And the cuts for women keep coming in fields like education, where women are more likely to be employed. Health care added 46,000 jobs last month, but the nursing care sector, which predominantly employs women of color, lost 12,000 jobs.


Nearly all the job gains came from the battered leisure and hospitality sector, which saw an increase of 355,000 amid a relaxation of dining restrictions in some areas. Bars and restaurants gained 286,000 jobs while hotel-related hiring totaled 36,000 and amusement, gambling and recreation businesses added 33,000.


The $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which is waiting for final passage, could provide some relief with family-friendly provisions including nearly $40 billion in funding and grants for the child care industry, $1,400 checks, and the expansion of the child tax credit to as much as $3,600 per child for the youngest kids.


An alternative measure of unemployment that includes discouraged workers and those holding part-time jobs for economic reasons was unchanged at 11.1%.


The March 5 report showed that hiring also was stronger in January than initially indicated, with that month’s tally revised to 166,000 from 49,000. However, December’s count was revised lower from a loss of 227,000 to a drop of 306,000. In addition, the average work week declined during the month as well, falling 0.3 hours to 34.6 hours.

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