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US hiring slows sharply to 245,000 jobs as virus intensifies

WASHINGTON (AP) — America’s employers sharply scaled back their hiring last month as the viral pandemic accelerated across the country, adding 245,000 jobs, the fewest since April and the fifth straight monthly slowdown.

At the same time, the unemployment rate fell to a still-high 6.7%, from 6.9% in October as many people stopped looking for work and were no longer counted as unemployed, the Labor Department said. November’s job gain was down from 610,000 in October.

Friday’s report provided the latest evidence that the job market and economy are faltering in the face of a virus that has been shattering daily records for confirmed infections. Economic activity is likely to slow further with health officials warning against all but essential travel and states and cities limiting gatherings, restricting restaurant dining and reducing the hours and capacity of bars, stores and other businesses.

Most experts say the economy and job market won’t be able to fully recover until the virus can be controlled with an effective and widely used vaccine. And the picture could worsen before it improves.

“The recovery is not insulated from the effects of the pandemic,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at employment website Glassdoor. “This is the calm before the storm. We face a long and difficult winter ahead.”

Before the pandemic, last month’s job gain would have been considered healthy. But the U.S. economy is still nearly 10 million jobs below its pre-pandemic level, with a rising proportion of the unemployed describing their jobs as gone for good. Faster hiring is needed to ensure that people who were laid off during the pandemic recession can quickly get back to work.

There is also evidence that the pandemic is inflicting long-term damage for millions of workers. People who have been out of work for six months or more — one definition of long-term unemployment — now make up nearly 40% of the jobless, the highest such proportion in nearly seven years. The long-term unemployed typically face a harder time finding work.

And the proportion of Americans who are either working or seeking work fell in November, suggesting that many people soured on their prospects for finding a job and stopped looking. That proportion declined to 61.5%, a level that before the pandemic haven’t been seen since the 1970s.

The impacts of the slowdown aren’t falling evenly on all Americans. Low-wage industries, like restaurants and bars and retail stores, actually cut jobs last month.

The unemployment rates for Black and Latino workers fell much more last month than for whites. Still, the Black unemployment rate was 10.3% and for Latinos 8.4%, compared with 5.9% for whites.

Friday’s jobs report also reflects how the coronavirus has transformed the holiday shopping season. Transportation and warehousing firms added 145,000 jobs in November, more than half the total job gain for the month. That trend reflected rapid hiring by shipping and logistics firms that are benefiting from the surge in online purchases by consumers shopping at home. Retailers, by contrast, shed 35,000 jobs — a reflection of fewer consumers shopping in physical stores.



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