The anemic employment report in September, which added just 194,000 jobs, describes the extent to which recovery stopped as coronavirus cases emerged last month, but it also suggests something deeper: The the unemployed in America are still struggling with child care and health issues, and they are reluctant to return to jobs they see as unsafe or unpaid.
For months, economists predicted an influx in hiring in September as unemployment benefits expired for millions of workers and schools reopened across the country. Instead, last month marked the weakest job hiring this year, and an alarming number of women have had to stop working again to deal with unstable child care situations.
The numbers are staggering: 309,000 women over the age of 20 dropped into the labor force in September, meaning they quit their jobs or stopped their job search. In contrast, 182,000 men joined the labor force, Labor Department data showed.
The simplest explanation for the modest job gains in September was the rapid spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus. It zapped a lot of momentum from the recovery as people in many parts of the country became more hesitant to eat out and travel. Only 2,100 jobs were added in hotels and only 29,000 in restaurants.
The coronavirus attack has also helped reopen public schools and return to personal learning. Schools have repeatedly faced explosions and concerns from staff members, including many bus drivers, who are hesitant to return to driving vehicles full of children, as the less than 12 years of age are not vaccinated.
“It’s become unpredictable. The in-person school is unreliable, and working moms have to balance that with trying to have a career,” said Alicia Sasser Modestino, a professor of economics at Northeheast University. “My 9-year-old woke up with sniffles and can’t go to school anymore. I live it in real-time.”
The September jobs report offers fresh evidence that contradicts Republicans who say generous unemployment assistance keeps people in the workforce. Millions of people lost all aid or it was scaled back to the beginning of September. But there was no immediate wave of workers returning to work.
The main taking from the jobs report is that it was an uneven and earnest recovery. The reason why the United States has approximately 11 million job vacancies and 7.7 million unemployed is more complex than many would like to admit.
The coronavirus continues to be a major factor in people’s hesitation to return to work, but something deeper is going on in 2021. Workers, especially low-wage workers, are on the rise. against people with poor wages and stressful conditions. It remains unclear how the Great Reassessment work will play out going forward. Right now, people are still hesitant to take the first jobs available to them, if they don’t believe they are good jobs. And they don’t hesitate to leave a situation they don’t like.
“The big news from the jobs report is that the delta variant has slowed things down. It has not evenly hit lower-wage workers,” said University of Michigan economist Betsey Stevenson. “But people also think they can [to] wait for a better job – or a safer job – to be together. “
For those looking for silver linings in the report, the most obvious is that the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 4.8% in September – the lowest since the pandemic hit. This marks a spectacular rebound in just a year and a half from April 2020, when the official unemployment rate reached 14.7% (and it’s probably even higher since the Census Bureau struggled to make the normal interview that month).
It took nearly seven years for unemployment to fall this low after the Great Recession. Many credit the government’s swift response at this time, along with trillions of aid for households and businesses in America, for keeping people from falling into poverty and helping drive a faster rebound.
But the unemployment rate declined for the wrong reason: The labor force was shrinking in September. Fewer people, especially women, are looking for work as they continue to struggle with child care and educational uncertainty. More than 5 million Americans stopped looking for work during this crisis. One big question remains: Will they return?
Bahar Cetinsoy is among those millions. He was a substitute teacher in New York City before the pandemic hit. He and his wife moved to College Park, Maryland, when he got another job offer. Cetinsoy is trying to get certified to teach in his new state and can’t do much work in his field without that. She also takes care of their son, who was born during the pandemic.
“Child care is a big factor. It’s expensive. If I get a part-time teaching job, I’ll pay more for child care than I would,” she said. “I haven’t been unemployed in a while.”
The optimistic view on Wall Street is that September will be another blip. There is a huge decline in public education jobs, which is uncommon and probably a result of many schools taking the summer instead of waiting until September. Excluding government jobs and public education, private sector hiring climbed 317,000 last month.
September saw moderate employment gains in almost all sectors outside the government. There were 74,000 hospitality jobs added, 60,000 business services jobs added, 56,000 retail jobs, 47,000 warehouse and transportation jobs, and 26,000 manufacturing jobs.
Even more encouraging are the cases of the coronavirus that appear to have subsided and vaccines could be used for children soon. This is driving the renewed hope that the acquisition will pick up in the rest of the year and into 2022.
“The path has been cleared for a fall / winter job boom. I don’t know if it will start this month or next, but I believe it will come,” tweeted Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork, an area of work.
But forecasters have repeatedly been too optimistic this year. The truth is that people continue to feel unable to return to work. For some, ongoing child care or aged care issues are holding them back. For others, concerns about being in a job with heavy exposure to the coronavirus-or one where they repeatedly encounter customers who don’t take precautions like wearing a mask and getting vaccinated. Some of this may improve in the coming months, but many government and business leaders underestimate how long the deadly virus will last.
Beyond the virus, there’s a deeper question of what jobs – and pay – people want to come back for. Hourly wages continued to rise in September as many businesses raised wages to try to attract workers, but wage gains were almost entirely swallowed up by higher inflation this year.
There is also a clear variation in how many college-educated, white-collar workers view this economy and how non-college workers view it.
Employment in September grew by nearly 350,000 among people with a college degree or even some college education. In contrast, employment has declined by more than 430,000 Americans with a high school degree or less.
“The labor market isn’t working at the bottom,” said Stevenson, the economist at the University of Michigan.
Right now, many working-class Americans have savings left over from their stimulus tsche and unemployment assistance, and they often augment it by taking gig jobs like driving for Uber Eats. It gives them more of a cushion to wait for the right job to come along.