The US unemployment rate fell to 7.9% in September, the labor department announced on Friday, in the last snapshot of the jobs market ahead of the presidential election.
Unemployment has fallen sharply since hitting a historic record of 14.7% in April after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the US. But the rate is still far higher than the 4.8% when Trump took office in January 2017 and the recent pace of recovery is slowing. The current level marks the worst job loss that any president has faced going into an election based on records going back to the second world war.
Over the month of September, the US added just 661,000 jobs, down from the 1.4m jobs added in August, a month that was boosted by the temporary hiring of 238,000 people to conduct the 2020 census.
About half of the jobs lost in the early months after the coronavirus hit the US have now been recovered. But the recovery in the jobs market has been uneven, disproportionately benefiting white men while young people, women, Latino and black Americans have continued to struggle to make up lost ground.
The unemployment rate for white people was 7% in September, for black people it was 12.1% and for Latinos it was 10.3%. The teenage unemployment rate was 15.9%.
Dedrea Perea of Bernalillo, New Mexico lost her job in telecommunications in August. Her unemployment benefits have been placed on hold because she is still considered employed in order to maintain her health insurance and can’t reach anyone through the state unemployment agency to address her dilemma.
For now, state regulations have placed moratoriums on evictions and utility shut offs, but she is at risk of having her car repossessed and is struggling to cover her back payments on rent and utilities.
“I’ve been donating plasma in order to make small payments to my utilities and my landlord so that I’m not too far behind until I can find a job,” said Perea.
William Rodgers, former chief economist at the US Department of Labor, and one of the US’s most prominent black economists, said the jobs recovery seemed to have hit “a plateau” and continuing restrictions on how businesses operate, fresh outbreaks and the coming flu season could all slow further recovery.
Rodgers, professor of public policy and chief economist at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, said the current situation would likely hit minorities – and particularly young minorities – hardest.
“This is a two-reality economy,” said Rodgers. “Going into this recession, inequality was, by many measures, at all-time highs. One group has faired OK economically and has worked from home while another has suffered economically, and in terms of health, to a far higher degree.”