U.S. employers are adding a meager 194,000 jobs that Delta maintains

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. employers added just 194,000 jobs in September, another lukewarm gain and proof that the pandemic is still gripping the economy, with many companies struggling to fill millions of open jobs.

Friday report from the Ministry of Labor also showed that unemployment fell sharply to 4.8% from 5.2% in August. Last month’s job gains fell back for even the modest 336,000 that the economy had added in August and were the fewest since December, when employers actually slipped into jobs.

The economy is showing some signs of getting out of the drag of the delta variant of coronavirus, with confirmed new COVID-19 infections declining, restaurant traffic increasing slightly and consumers willing to spend. But new infections remained high as September began. And employers are still struggling to find workers because many people who lost jobs in the pandemic have not yet started applying again. Bottlenecks in the supply chain has also worsened, slowed down factories, retained home builders and emptied some store shelves.

The proportion of Americans who either have a job or are looking for one — known as work participation — fell in September from 61.7% to 61.6%, well below the pre-pandemic level of 63.3%, Friday’s report said. Many economists had hoped that the reopening of schools, the expiration of federal unemployment benefits and a faster vaccination rate would have led more people to apply for jobs. That did not happen last month.

Last month’s decline in work participation reflected exclusively women, suggesting that many working mothers still care for children at home. For men, work participation was unchanged. Although schools reopened in September, some after-school programs were not yet in place to offer all-day care. And childcare has become scarce and more expensive in many cases. In addition, COVID outbreaks have forced some temporary school closures, making it difficult for working mothers to keep jobs back.

Lael Brainard, a member of the Fed’s Board of Governors, noted in a recent speech that COVID-19 outbreak in late September caused 2,000 schools to close for an average of six days in 39 states.

Many economists still believe that most of the approximately 3 million people who lost their jobs and stopped looking for work since the pandemic hit will resume their searches as COVID declines. It took years after the 2008-2009 recession, they note, that the proportion of people working or looking for work is returning to pre-recession levels. The government does not count people as unemployed unless they are actively looking for jobs.

Another factor behind the weakness in employment was a sharp decline in municipal education jobs. The number of such jobs fell by 144,000 last month despite the reopening of schools. This decline suggests that many local school systems do not employ as many people as they typically do. Many have had trouble finding enough bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other support staff.

In most non-education industries, job growth in September was as good or better than in August. Transportation and warehousing, for example, which have been amplified by an increase in online shopping, added 47,000 jobs. Manufacturers added 26,000. Restaurants, hotels and theme parks, however, only got 74,000 jobs, more than in August, but far below the pace of summer, when they added hundreds of thousands of workers a month.

Several enhanced unemployment benefits ended in early September, including a $ 300-a-week federal supplement as well as programs that for the first time covered concert workers and people who were unemployed for six months or more. So far, the termination of these programs has had only a small effect on the number of people seeking work.

Another reason why workers are scarce is an increase in retirement life among older, more affluent workers, whose equity and inventories in the home have risen since the pandemic hit, and who have managed to build savings. Goldman Sachs estimates that about 1.5 million people have retired who would not have strengthened the economy before the pandemic. Many of these people are likely to retire, economists expect.

Meanwhile, fears of COVID continue to keep some potential job seekers on the sidelines, especially those who have previously worked in public service jobs at restaurants, bars, hotels and retailers.

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