Five Numbers from February’s Employment Situation Report
The economy added 379,000 jobs in February, according to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, leaving the unemployment rate at 6.2% – not much changed from January. The report compiles tons of data, so here are five numbers to help you make sense of the latest statistics.
It has been almost a year since the coronavirus pandemic first devastated the U.S. economy. We lost 1.7 million jobs in March 2020 and a staggering 20.7 million in April. As economic activity resumed, the economy has slowly recovered, but despite adding 545,000 jobs in the past two months, we need to add another 9,475,000 jobs just to catch up to where we were before the pandemic.
For a variety of reason, women – and particularly women of color – have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Women’s labor force participation has dropped 2.2 percentage points over the past year, compared to 2.0 percentage points for men. That might not sound like much, but it means approximately 1.8 million women have dropped out of the workforce. With a 4.2 percentage point drop in labor force participation, the situation is even more dire for Black women.
As I noted in my blog last month, the economics for Black Americans have always been worse than what the average statistics suggest. The unemployment rate for Black Americans was 9.9% last month, and only 5.6% for whites. A lot more is needed to accelerate a truly inclusive recovery.
The long-term unemployment rate continued to rise, which is particularly troubling because of its long-term impacts on income, future earnings, and mental and physical health. Roughly 40%, or two in five, unemployed workers have been unemployed for at least six months – that’s more than 4 million people.
We’ve lost nearly 9.5 million jobs since February 2020, and 1,389,000 of those have been public sector jobs. The drop in local and state government employment shows the need for more aid to states, cities and local governments. State and local funding is critical to re-opening schools and funding local vaccination programs.
While the headlines numbers are trending in the right direction, millions of working are still struggling and need help. We need to deliver urgent relief and resources to meet this moment – quickly. As we focus on the next steps of the recovery, we have an opportunity to focus on inclusive policies that create an economy that works for all Americans and makes sure that no communities are left behind.
Janelle Jones is the chief economist of the U.S. Department of Labor.