US economy adds 916,000 March jobs as vaccine rollout fuels hiring boom

  • Unemployment at 6% as businesses reopen and hire workers
  • Data shows 30% of Americans have had at least one vaccine shot

The US labor market went on a hiring spree in March, adding 916,000 jobs amid the fast-paced coronavirus vaccine rollout.

The unemployment rate edged down to 6% as businesses across the country started opening up and rehiring.

The surge in hiring was the highest since August last year and was fueled by “the continued resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said.

Thirty percent of the US population has now received one vaccination against the coronavirus and 16.9% is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Covid-19 cases are still rising in many states, and over 549,000 people have died, but economic confidence appears to be rising.

In March, consumer confidence hit its highest level since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest poll by the Conference Board, and US stock markets have been setting new highs.

The gain in employment and confidence follows the Biden administration’s passage of a $1.9tn stimulus package that will hand $1,400 checks to the majority of Americans.

One year after the pandemic burned a hole in the jobs market unemployment remains high. The slump hit low-wage workers, people of color and women the hardest.

March’s largest gains were in leisure and hospitality, areas where low wage workers, women and people of color are over represented. The sector, hit hardest by the pandemic, added 280,000 jobs over the month. The industry is still down by 3.1m jobs from the pre-pandemic peak.

But there were also strong gains in construction, which added 100,000 jobs, and public and private education, which added 190,000 positions in total after months of heavy losses.

A new measure of the number of people working from home also dipped slightly. In March, 21% of employed people teleworked because of the coronavirus, according to the BLS, down from 22.7% in the prior month.

“With the vaccination program likely to reach critical mass within the next couple of months and the next round of fiscal stimulus providing a big boost, there is finally real light at the end of the tunnel,” Capital Economics said in a research note.

The latest gains suggest that the worst of the pandemic-related jobs slump may be over – but big issues remain.

While the unemployment rate has fallen sharply from a dizzying high of 14.8% last April the US still has 8.4m jobs less than it did before the pandemic and layoffs remain high. Last week, 719,000 people filed claims for unemployment benefits, the labor department announced on Thursday. The figure was up from 658,000 the week before. Although the number of claims is trending down from record highs, it is still more than three times as high as it was before the pandemic.

The “real” unemployment rate may be closer to 9%, according to a broader measure of the unemployment rate that is closely watched by the Federal Reserve and includes people on the sidelines of the job market who are not actively looking for work.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal are predicting the US will add an average of 514,000 jobs each month over the next year, for a total of more than 6 million. While such a gain would represent the best 12-month stretch of job creation in decades, the US is not expected to regain all the jobs lost to the pandemic until later in 2022.

This week, ADP, the US’s largest payroll supplier, said the private sector had added 517,000 jobs in March, its strongest gain since September.

“We saw marked improvement in March’s labor market data, reporting the strongest gain since September,” said Nela Richardson, chief economist at ADP. “Job growth in the service sector significantly outpaced its recent monthly average, led with notable increase by the leisure and hospitality industry.”


Dominic Rushe in New York

The GuardianTramp

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