These are dark, cold days, but every week brings more sunlight – and there’s even more cause for optimism in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest jobs report. We added 6.4 million new jobs in 2021 and the unemployment rate has dropped to 3.9%. Here are five more numbers to pay attention to from the December jobs report.
3.9% unemployment rate
The unemployment rate dropped 0.3 percentage points in December, marking the first time the unemployment rate dipped below 4% since the pandemic began.
84% jobs recovered
Speaking of the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve recovered 84% of the jobs lost in March and April 2020. And we’ve recovered these 18.8 million jobs years faster than economists predicted.
2x+ Black unemployment rate
If you’ve read any of my blogs, you know I care about demographics. The true measure of economic success is how the economy is doing for those usually left behind. Currently, the Black unemployment rate is more than double the white unemployment rate, and Black women were the only demographic group who saw unemployment rise in December. I’ll never get tired of saying it: An economic recovery is not complete unless everyone recovers, so there’s still work to do.
-12K government jobs
While private sector growth has been strong, government employment has recovered only 39% of the 1.5 million jobs lost in March, April and May 2020. That means the public sector has shrunk by 927,000 jobs since the start of the pandemic, including 12,000 in December. We’ll need a robust public sector to enact the policies that will help us combat the virus and ensure ongoing economic growth.
+53K leisure and hospitality jobs
I don’t know about you, but I could use a little R&R, so I was glad to see the leisure and hospitality industry added 53,000 jobs in December. That said, they’re still down 1.2 million from spring 2020 – and ongoing pandemic concerns will delay full recovery in this area. The more we can do to manage the virus – masks, social distancing, vaccines, etc. – the faster this industry will be able to recover.
Bonus number: +492K COVID cases
Sorry to end on a downer, but let’s be practical. The moving average for U.S. COVID cases was around 119,000 during the December reference period, and it’s risen dramatically since then – to about 492,000 on Jan. 3. We know the pandemic can stifle economic growth. But we also know we can take simple steps to protect ourselves, our friends and families, our coworkers, our healthcare workers and our communities.
Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are free. Vaccines save lives. If you’re looking for a vaccine – or information to share with a vaccine-hesitant loved one – check out vaccines.gov.
Happy New Year! Here's hoping for more of the historic progress we saw in 2021, and continuing with the hard work toward an equitable and robust recovery.
Janelle Jones is the chief economist of the U.S. Department of Labor.