April’s dismal jobs report shows the 2019 economy is not coming back and that’s a problem

bartender
The US is reopening to a reshaped economy where consumer spending is recovering faster than jobs.

  • The US economy only added 266,000 jobs in April, far less than economists’ predictions of 1 million.
  • While leisure and hospitality showed the biggest gain, they were still far below pre-pandemic norms.
  • The jobs report signals that the reopened economy won’t look like 2019’s for a long time.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

April’s jobs report is a big yikes.

The US economy only added 266,000 nonfarm payrolls last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Friday. That’s way less than 1 million, the median estimate for payroll gains by economists surveyed by Bloomberg. While it was the fourth consecutive month of payroll increases, it was the smallest since September.

As a Morgan Stanley note from economist Robert Rosener’s team stated, “The expected ‘string’ of strong jobs reports has started to look more like a modest trail of crumbs.”

In the process, unemployment has risen again, albeit slightly from 6% to 6.1%, it was the opposite direction of the forecasted decline to 5.8%.

Job growth was strongest in the leisure and hospitality sector, adding some 331,000 payrolls. More than half of this increase was linked to hiring in food services and bars, offsetting declines in other sectors such as temporary help services.

The staggering numbers indicate that while the economy is still set to come roaring back to life this year, it won’t look anything like it did in 2019, and jobs may not come back at nearly the same rate as consumer spending ramps up.

Consumer spending recovering faster than jobs

The US economy is on the verge of a glow-up. Vaccines are increasingly finding their way into arms, big cities are reopening, and Americans are sitting on $2.6 trillion in excess savings, between three stimulus checks and a decline in discretionary spending.

They’re already swiping their cards on things like outdoor activities, transit, restaurants, clothes, and beauty as they prepare for what Insider reported is shaping up to be a “hot vaxx summer.” Economists expect this to continue, predicting that a lockdown lift will see the biggest boomtime in a generation.

But the return of consumers to the economy hasn’t yet been matched with blowout job growth, which is putting the predicted post-pandemic boom in a new light. The US is still down roughly 9.8 million jobs from its pre-pandemic peak. While relaxing restrictions is expected to help narrow this gap within the incoming months, April’s payrolls spark concern over how easy these gains will be.

The disruption to the experience economy is still taking its toll. Leisure and hospitality may have seen the most job gains in April, but employment in certain industries of this sector still hasn’t reached pre-pandemic levels.

Hallmarks of the 2019 economy that suddenly went on pause last year – the payrolls of motion picture and sound recording industries, travel arrangement and reservation services, performing arts and spectator sports, and accommodation – were all still at least 25% below where they were before the pandemic. Hollywood and travel may not look the way they once did on the jobs front – or not for years, meaning job gains will have to come from somewhere else.

Reopening to a reshaped economy

Experts have been warning of millions of jobs permanently lost to the pandemic, Insider’s Ben Winck reported.

Countries will need to “think well in advance” of what a post-pandemic economy will look like so as to add jobs where they’re going to be, Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said in a Thursday video conference. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell also noted that millions of Americans will struggle to find work as they acclimate to a permanently changed labor market.

“The real concern is that longer-term unemployment can allow people’s skills to atrophy, their connections to the labor market to dwindle, and they have a hard time getting back to work,” he said in the conference. “It’s important to remember we are not going back to the same economy, this will be a different economy.”

However, some experts remain optimistic. Jason furman, former top economist to former president Barack Obama, said on MSNBC Friday that he expects hiring to pick up during the summer. “I think we’re gonna see a hot summer in the labor market,” he said.

Lockdown lifts are just beginning and vaccinations are still rolling out. That is all to say: it’s still early on. But that we’re in the first stages of a recovery means that the 2019-vintage experience sector of the economy won’t snap back instantaneously, and that other industries are still grappling with the worker effects of not having properly estimated demand for goods during the pandemic.

April’s jobs report was a strong signal that recovery won’t be as simple as going back to the economic playbook from the before times. Instead of seeing an economy restored to what it once was, we might see an economy reshaped into something new.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Why America’s economic recovery is stumbling as experts badly misjudge the labor market

Now Hiring sign
A customer walks by a now hiring sign at a BevMo store on April 02, 2021 in Larkspur, California.

  • April’s jobs report was a shocking miss, suggesting the hiring rebound many anticipated was an illusion.
  • Virus fears, childcare pressures, and unemployment benefits all likely drove the weak payrolls read.
  • Biden has proposed massive packages focused on jobs, but they likely face months of negotiation before passage.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Democratic political advisor James Carville became famous in the 1990s for his phrase “it’s the economy, stupid.”

After April’s shockingly disappointing jobs report, it looks more like “it’s not the economy, stupid, it’s the virus.”

March’s strong jobs data – along with widespread projections of a coming economic boom – had raised optimism among economists for a continued recovery in the labor force. It prompted Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell to deem March an “inflection point” for the reopening of the economy, and experts saw it kicking off a season of outsize payroll increases. But the drop in April makes clear the virus continues to bite.

Economists had expected payroll gains to reach 1 million, but the country added just 266,000 jobs last month. It was the smallest monthly increase since January and the biggest miss of payroll forecasts in more than two decades. The unemployment rate rose to 6.1%, female employment declined, and, although hard-hit sectors like leisure and hospitality saw healthy gains, most others posted either meager growth or shed jobs entirely.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Friday release underscores just how much the labor market still has to recover, and that the climb won’t be as easy as most economists anticipated. Even if April stands out as a gloomy outlier, the average pace of payroll growth suggests it could take years to fully recoup the millions of jobs lost to the pandemic.

What went wrong?

The jobs report was such a shock that it’s hard to find a single explanation at first glance. It also highlights just how inadequate forecasting tools are for measuring this unique economic moment.

Economists typically use a combination of quantitative and qualitative data to estimate future growth. Indicators like weekly jobless claims and hours worked join anecdotal evidence and broad surveys to create forecasting models. Economists’ calculations, when tallied together and averaged, usually come close to guessing monthly payroll additions.

The April data serves as a wake-up call for the many forecasters who didn’t even come close to guessing correctly. Whether models overlooked details like COVID-19 fears or bullish biases tarnished forecasts, economists need to reconcile how they were so wrong.

The disappointment was likely fueled by several factors instead of one solvable hurdle. Despite President Joe Biden’s overdelivering on vaccinations, the country is far from placing the coronavirus pandemic behind it. Daily case counts still averaged about 50,000 at the end of last month, and highly contagious strains continue to spread across the US.

The coronavirus pandemic has also been notable for the “she-cession,” hurting female employment much more than men. The absence of affordable childcare and lack of in-person schooling around the country likely kept some Americans home instead of working, as born out by the April report, which showed women – who disproportionately take on childcare responsibilities – losing jobs through the month.

How big is the labor shortage?

Last month also saw several businesses across the manufacturing and service sectors reporting difficulties in finding workers. The jury is still out on how widespread worker shortages might be, as about 10 million Americans remain unemployed. On one hand, some economists suggest boosted unemployment benefits cut into the incentive to find work. Strong wage growth in the leisure and hospitality sector also signals businesses may need to lift compensation to attract workers.

“The benefits are due to expire in September but perhaps people think jobs will be just as easy to find then as they are now, so why take a job today?,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said. “If people continue to resist taking the jobs on offer at the pay on offer, then wages will have to rise more quickly.”

The Chamber of Commerce called on lawmakers to withdraw the federal benefit to unemployment insurance following the April report. The supplement results in 25% of recipients earning more from unemployment benefits than by working, Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.

“We need a comprehensive approach to dealing with our workforce issues and the very real threat unfilled positions pose to our economic recovery from the pandemic,” he added.

The April data does not quite agree with the chamber’s argument, showing labor demand overshadowing anecdotes of a supply shortage. April job gains were strongest in lower-wage industries and in sectors with in-person jobs. The composition of last month’s job additions “doesn’t scream supply constraints as the problem,” Nick Bunker, an economist at Indeed, wrote on Twitter.

Separately, the number of Americans temporarily laid off ticked slightly higher in April. That also signals labor demand wasn’t as robust as businesses’ anecdotes suggested.

Looking to other labor-market data, the steady decline in weekly jobless claims now looks much less encouraging for the recovery. The April uptick in unemployment comes as filings for unemployment benefits fell throughout the month to numerous pandemic-era lows. The drops initially seemed to signal that more Americans were returning to work, but BLS’ report suggests the downtrend has more to do with Americans dropping out of assistance programs than finding employment.

It could take months for the government to lend a hand

Much of the last few months’ promising job gains were linked to massive stimulus packages. The CARES Act helped a sharp hiring rebound after initial COVID-19 lockdowns in March 2020. And Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan in March 2021 spurred stronger economic activity last month.

The president has since rolled out two new spending proposals, the larger of which would spend $2.3 trillion on job creation. The American Jobs Plan would create millions of jobs by funding traditional infrastructure projects, clean energy initiatives, and nationwide broadband, Biden said in a Thursday speech. Biden’s administration has at other times cited a Moody’s Analytics projection of 2.7 million new jobs from the American Jobs Plan.

The smaller package, named the American Families Plan, could support hiring in its own right by overhauling the care economy, as it seeks to provide paid family and medical leave and childcare support.

Yet such support is likely months away. Republicans have balked at both plans, lambasting their hefty price tags and the tax hikes proposed to offset them. Democrats seem to face a challenge passing the package on a party-line vote via reconciliation, as some moderates in their party have yet to throw their full support behind the follow-up packages as they exist.

To be sure, the April report represents just one month of hiring. May numbers could show a healthy rebound and revive the positive trend. The economy is not even fully reopened from virus-safety considerations yet, so rebounds are likely.

But with additional fiscal support far on the horizon and economists highlighting a number of obstacles hindering job growth, the resurgent spring recovery for jobs that many economists were predicting is gone.

Read the original article on Business Insider

America’s companies are struggling to hire workers back. It risks derailing the economic recovery.

San Francisco reopening
Manager Cynthia Martinez converses with guests at El Rio, located at 3158 Mission St., on Saturday, April 3, 2021, in San Francisco.

  • The labor market is on the path to recovery, but it’s not a sure thing as the economy reopens.
  • Worker shortages are hitting some businesses, and experts warn of millions of jobs permanently lost.
  • Stimulus hasn’t led to a spending surge yet, and Americans may sit on their huge savings pile.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The positive March jobs report showed a country on the brink of full reopening, with good news for the economy around the corner. But just reopening isn’t enough for a full recovery.

“There’s no guarantee that the people whose jobs have been permanently eliminated will be able to find work elsewhere,” Nancy Vanden Houten, lead economist at Oxford Economics, told Insider. “At the same time, there’s a risk that labor force participation won’t return to what it was prior to the pandemic. We might still experience shortages of workers.”

Filling the hole in the labor market will take more than reaching a 3.5% unemployment rate and recouping every lost payroll, she said. The country was adding roughly 200,000 jobs a month before the pandemic, meaning the labor market will have to get back to the February 2020 level – and then some – to reach maximum employment.

The US began that climb in earnest last month, adding 916,000 nonfarm payrolls, blowing the median estimate of a 660,000 gain out of the water. The unemployment rate fell to 6% from 6.2%, matching economist forecasts, still far above the 3.5% pre-pandemic rate.

Experts are bracing for several months of outsize job gains as consumers thaw the frozen economy. But to Vanden Houten’s point, pressures are now emerging on the supply side. While consumer demand shows signs of coming back, other signs point to an imbalance between job openings and Americans actively seeking work.

Jobless claims, however, have been volatile in recent months and give a clearer hint at deep scarring. Filings fell to a pandemic-era low of 658,000 in March but rose to 744,000 last week, signaling persistent challenges in hiring.

Supply strains and lagging cities present new challenges

Some of the world’s top economic policymakers are warning of long-term scarring of the labor force that reopening can’t address. Countries will need to “think well in advance” of what a post-pandemic economy will look like so as to add jobs where they’re going to be, Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said in a Thursday video conference.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell echoed her remarks, noting that millions of Americans will struggle to find work as they acclimate to a permanently changed labor market.

“The real concern is that longer-term unemployment can allow people’s skills to atrophy, their connections to the labor market to dwindle, and they have a hard time getting back to work,” he said in the conference. “It’s important to remember we are not going back to the same economy, this will be a different economy.”

Even the businesses set to benefit most from reopening are running into snags. Staffing at full-service restaurants remains down 20%, or 1.1 million openings, from the year-ago level, according to data from the National Restaurant Association. Owners and managers interviewed by The New York Times attributed the persistent shortfall to a lack of available workers. Others said their former employees chose to stay out of the workforce and subsist on expanded unemployment benefits.

The country’s most densely populated areas are also experiencing slow recoveries, government data shows. Los Angeles and New York City held the highest February unemployment rates of the 51 major metropolitan areas: 9.9% and 9.8%, respectively. This kind of high unemployment in densely populated cities is bad news for the economic recovery, as the longer that the engines of the pre-2020 economy lie dormant, the further away lies a return to a kind of “normal,” unless a new normal rapidly takes its place.

The stimulus spending boost could be smaller than expected

The government acknowledged risks associated with weak spending and acted on them. The $1.9 trillion stimulus measure approved by President Joe Biden in March was the largest relief package to hit the US economy since the CARES Act was passed in the first months of the pandemic. Americans received support in the form of stimulus checks and bolstered unemployment benefits, two boosts set to supercharge spending and overall demand as the economy reopened.

Recent studies suggest that boost may not be be as potent as anticipated. Stimulus check recipients spent just under one-quarter of their latest relief payments, according to researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That’s less than the share spent from the CARES Act checks or the $600 payments issued in January.

About 42% of the payments were saved, the highest percentage of all three stimulus checks. Though those savings can be unwound over time, they do little to aid the recovery in the near term. The remainder of the checks is expected to go toward paying down debts.

“As the economy reopens and fear and uncertainty recede, the high levels of saving should facilitate more spending in the future. However, a great deal of uncertainty and discussion exists about the pace of this spending increase and the extent of pent-up demand,” the team led by Oliver Armantier said.

Stimulus passed throughout 2020 already buttressed Americans’ savings, and there’s been little sign of that cash being put to use. Peoples’ savings grew by $1.6 trillion since last March, according to the New York Fed, but that sum is largely staying in bank accounts instead of moving throughout the economy.

Americans who held onto their jobs haven’t increased their spending activity even though their savings increased, the Fed researchers said in a Monday blog post. Limitations to how much people can dine out or go on vacation will also curb a surge in consumer spending.

“It is certainly possible that some of these savings will pay for extra travel and entertainment once the COVID-19 nightmare is behind us, but our conclusion is that the resulting boost to expenditures will be limited,” the team said.

Outlooks remain strong. Banks are forecasting the strongest economic growth in decades, and the March payrolls report bodes well for near-term job gains. The president’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan promises to create millions of new jobs if it can win ample bipartisan support.

But the path to a fully healed labor market remains riddled with downside risks. Trends in worker availability, consumer spending, and permanent scarring will determine whether the country can stage one of the fastest economic recoveries in history.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The economy added almost 1 million jobs in March, but 14.3 million people are still jobless

Coronavirus movie theater
Moviegoers shop at concessions before the movie “Godzilla vs. Kong” on the reopening day of the TCL Chinese theatre during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Los Angeles, March 31, 2021.

  • The March jobs report trounced forecasts, but some unemployment gauges show a steep climb ahead.
  • The “real” unemployment rate used by Fed Chair Powell and Treasury Secretary Yellen fell to 8.7% from 9.1%.
  • The measure includes misclassifications and workers who dropped out of the labor force since February 2020.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The March jobs report was a hugely positive surprise.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday that 916,000 nonfarm payrolls were added last month. That compares to the 660,000 expected by economists surveyed by Bloomberg and an upwardly revised gain of 468,000 jobs in February. The headline unemployment rate fell to 6%, matching the consensus forecast.

The data signals that the $1.9 trillion stimulus passed in March and gradual reopening drove a strong rebound for the labor market. Leisure and hospitality businesses – those hit hardest by the pandemic and related lockdowns – counted for one-third of the month’s additions. Construction firms added roughly 110,000 payrolls after hiring contracted during the prior month’s harsh storms.

Still, alternative metrics show there’s plenty of progress to be made before the economy fully retraces its pandemic-era losses. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen have touted a “real” unemployment rate that includes workers that have been misclassified as having a job while they’re on pandemic-related furloughs and Americans who dropped out of the labor force since February 2020.

By Insider’s calculations, that rate fell to 8.7% in March from 9.1%. That level suggests 14.3 million Americans are still jobless.

Separately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ broader read of nationwide unemployment remains at worrying highs. The U-6 rate – which includes Americans employed part-time for economic reasons and workers only marginally attached to the labor force – dipped to 10.7% from 11.1%.

The rate of job growth seen in March still pushes a full recovery well into the future. Even if the US continues to add 916,000 jobs every month, it would take until January 2022 to lift employment back to levels seen before the pandemic.

“Today’s report confirms that labor market conditions are rapidly heating up but reaching broad-based and inclusive full employment will be a multi-year process,” Lydia Boussour, lead US economist at Oxford Economics, said in a note.

The White House is already teeing up its next booster for US job growth. President Joe Biden revealed a $2.3 trillion spending plan on Wednesday. The so-called American Jobs Plan includes funds for restoring roads and bridges, building affordable housing, and installing a nationwide broadband network, among other projects. The proposal should create millions of union jobs over the next eight years, according to the president.

“Now it’s time to rebuild,” Biden said during his announcement, adding: “Wall Street didn’t build this country. You, the great middle class, built this country, and unions built the middle class.”

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The February jobs report shows Americans are eager for a full reopening

NYC coronavirus tables restaurant
Empty tables stand at a restaurant in Manhattan on March 1, 2021.

  • The February jobs report exceeded expectations and hints at how reopening can accelerate job growth.
  • The bulk of the job gains came from industries hit the hardest by the pandemic.
  • Stronger hiring is coming, it’s just a matter of “how long it takes to get there,” BlackRock said.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The February jobs report shows the labor market in reopening rehearsal. 

The US added 379,000 nonfarm payrolls last month, handily exceeding the median economist estimate of 200,000 additions. The unemployment rate fell to 6.2% from 6.3%, labor force participation held steady, and the number of Americans citing COVID-19 for not seeking employment fell by 500,000.

The drivers behind the gains are also encouraging.

While the drop in unemployment seen in January was largely tied to more Americans dropping out of the labor force, last month’s dip was tied to increased hiring across a broad set of sectors. The payroll increase would’ve “easily” topped 500,000 had adverse weather not contributed to construction jobs falling by 61,000, Morgan Stanley economists led by Robert Rosener said.

For all intents and purposes, the report came in more positive than expected. Investors overwhelmingly thought so, too. Treasurys declined sharply as traders bet on a faster-than-expected economic rebound, bringing the 10-year yield to its highest level since February 2020. The Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 gained, led by cyclical and value stocks.

Fanning February’s flames

A deeper dive into the data shows a recovery that’s found its footing. The leisure and hospitality industries – among those hit hardest by the pandemic and resulting restrictions – counted for 355,000 of the month’s payroll additions. Temporary job losses declined, suggesting businesses were able to reopen and rehire workers as COVID-19 case counts fell nationwide. 

The overall gains are a “surprise” and can be boiled down to reopening “arriving earlier than expected,” Brian Coulton, chief economist at Fitch, said.

Warming weather, continued vaccination, and even lower daily case counts stand to supercharge job gains into the summer. Plenty on Wall Street agree. The data “suggest that the labor market recovery is accelerating in earnest,” Bank of America economists Joseph Song and Michelle Meyer said Friday.

Michael Feroli, chief US economist at JPMorgan, said investors can expect “even better numbers” as reopening provides an “incredibly powerful tailwind.”

“There is no ambiguity regarding where employment is headed, in our view, but just how long it takes to get there,” Rick Rieder, chief investment officer of global fixed income at BlackRock, said.

Not so fast

Still, the battle is far from won. A handful of datapoints signal the climb to maximum employment will be much steeper than the 6.2% U-3 rate implies. 

Ahead of the February report’s release, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen repeatedly said the “real” unemployment rate was closer to 10%. The unofficial estimate included Americans misclassified as being employed and those who dropped out of the labor force since the pandemic began.

That “real” rate improved to 9.1% through February, according to Insider analysis. While this is down significantly from the year-ago peak of nearly 24%, the pace of decline slowed significantly through the winter.

The U-6 unemployment rate – which tracks people marginally attached to the workforce and Americans employed part-time for economic reasons – showed no improvement at all and held at 11.1% last month.

These gloomier datapoints practically guarantee Powell will keep ultra-easy monetary conditions in place for the foreseeable future. The Fed chief cautioned on Thursday that it “will take some time” to achieve the central bank’s goal of maximum employment. The healthy decline in baseline unemployment is cause for some optimism, but a broad set of criteria need to be met to ensure the recovery is robust, he added.

“We want to see wages moving up. We’d want to see that the gains in employment are broad-based and that different demographic groups were experiencing it,” Powell said. “We have a high standard for identifying what maximum employment is.”

The still-elevated unemployment rate has also been cited by Democrats as a sign additional stimulus is still warranted. Senate Democrats kickstarted a lengthy amendment process on Friday with aims to pass a $1.9 trillion relief package over the weekend. The deal includes $1,400 direct payments, a $400 supplement to federal unemployment benefits, and funding for state and local governments.

While Republicans have argued the bill is a case of overspending, Democrats have pointed to lasting labor-market pain as justification for the hefty price tag. The bulk of February’s payroll gains can be traced to business reopenings, but an additional stimulus package could boost demand and drive new demand for workers.

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The ‘real’ February unemployment rate is closer to 9% after adding dropouts and misclassifications, analysis shows

Northgate Mall empty hall
  • While the February jobs report showed unemployment dipping to 6.2%, the “real” rate is much higher.
  • Fed Chair Powell and Treasury Secretary Yellen said in early 2021 the real rate is closer to 10%.
  • When accounting for misclassification and dropouts, Insider calculates the true rate at roughly 9.1% after February.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

February labor-market data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics pegged last month’s unemployment rate at 6.2%. The true state of the economy is likely gloomier.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen emphasized before the BLS report that the “real” unemployment rate likely stands closer to 10%. Such an unofficial measurement ropes in workers suspected to have been misclassified as having a job even though they’re actually on a COVID-19-related furlough and people who have stopped looking for work and dropped out of the labor force since last February amid the crisis.

Those populations are left out of the government’s benchmark U-3 unemployment reading – the number that stood at 6.2% after February. By Insider’s calculations, the “real” unemployment rate touted by Powell and Yellen stands at roughly 9.1% for the same period.

Other gauges used by BLS paint a similarly bleak picture. The U-6 rate – which includes Americans marginally attached to the labor force and those employed part-time for economic reasons – held at 11.1% in February, according to the Friday release. The gauge peaked at 22.9% in April 2020 but still has plenty of room to fall before reaching the pre-pandemic reading of 7%.

To be sure, the jobs report wasn’t all bad. By some measures, it was a sign of major improvement. Nonfarm payrolls grew by 379,000, handily exceeding the median economist estimate of 200,000 payrolls. The hospitality and leisure industries accounted for 355,000 of those new jobs, a signal that the sectors hit hardest by the virus and related lockdowns are steadily improving.

The diffusion index – which tracks how many sectors added jobs versus those cutting payrolls – returned to positive territory, signaling job gains are broadening. The labor-force participation rate held steady at 61.4% after declining the month prior.

The data underscores recent commentary from Fed Chair Powell on his economic outlook. There remains “a lot of ground to cover” before the US comes close to reaching the Fed’s maximum-employment goal, the central bank chief said. And while the unemployment rate remains a key indicator, other gauges are critical for judging the overall health of the labor market, he added. 

“Yes, 4% would be a nice unemployment rate, but it would take more than that to get to maximum employment,” Powell said.

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California, Hawaii, and Nevada saw the largest jumps in unemployment last year, government data shows

FILE PHOTO: An employee routinely sanitizes server trays at a reopened restaurant after restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are eased in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, U.S., June 8, 2020.  REUTERS/Emily Elconin/File Photo
Restaurants are reopening in Michigan.

  • Nevada, California, and Hawaii had the largest unemployment spikes in 2020, new BLS data shows.
  • Nebraska, Utah, and South Dakota saw their unemployment rates rise the least.
  • Employment-population ratios sank to all-time lows in 15 states including Illinois and Virginia.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The coronavirus sparked the worst unemployment crisis in nearly a century, but the damage differs significantly state by state, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The nationwide unemployment rate averaged 8.1% throughout 2020 as the pandemic fueled a massive leap in unemployment before giving way to a now-meandering recovery. Yet that overall figure fails to capture massive disparities at the state level.

For one, four states saw average annual unemployment rate above 10% last year. Nevada faced the bleakest downturn, with unemployment averaging 12.8% in 2020. Hawaii and California followed with averages of 11.6% and 10.1%, respectively.

New York – the epicenter of the nation’s first COVID-19 outbreak – saw unemployment average 10% in 2020, according to the Wednesday report.

Conversely, some states’ labor markets saw negligible upticks in unemployment. Nebraska fared the best, with its own rate of 4.2% nearly halving the nationwide figure. Close behind were South Dakota and Utah with average rates of 4.6% and 4.7%, respectively.

Gaps also emerged in states’ employment-population ratios. The metric is a popular alternative measure of unemployment since it counts Americans who dropped out of the labor force.

The ratios fell to record-lows in 15 states, supporting fears that the economic fallout is among the worst ever seen in the US. Nevada, Hawaii, and Rhode Island suffered the biggest declines of the group. The national ratio fell to 56.8% from 60.8% last year.

Mississippi and West Virginia posted the lowest ratios of 50.6% and 50.3%, respectively. To be sure, the readings weren’t the lowest in history for either state. Nebraska ended the year with the highest employment-population ratio of 66.7%.

Overall, 23 states boasted ratios higher than the national figure. Yet all 50 states and the District of Columbia saw their employment-population ratios decline from levels seen in 2019.

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One chart shows how Main Street feels blue as Wall Street hits record highs

GettyImages protest dc covid-19 stimulus relief
Labor organizations called for car caravan demonstrations across the US to protest record unemployment on June 17.

  • A chart from Bank of America Research analysts how the S&P 500 is booming.
  • It also shows a stark disconnect from the rest of the economy.
  • While the economy is projected to grow, unemployment is likely to stay high.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A Tuesday note from Bank of America Research predicts a correction for the stock market – and also showcases the disconnect between Wall Street and the rest of the economy.

In a chart, BofA researchers show how as the S&P 500 has climbed to record highs, Main Street indicators have in most cases stayed far below pre-pandemic levels.

wall street v main street bofa chart
The S&P 500’s record high, contrasted with much lower indicators for Main Street, via BofA Research.

In December, consumer confidence unexpectedly fell to its lowest level since August, although it saw some improvement in January. On the other hand, the Present Situation Index – “based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions” – fell further in January, according to a press release from the Conference Board.

The Small Business Optimism Index, which gauges the state of small business based off 10 key indicators, also dropped in January, falling below a historic average

A rebounding economy, but not employment

Projections from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) saw the country’s GDP returning to pre-pandemic levels in mid-2021, with the economy growing by 4.6% over the full year.

But the CBO didn’t see such a rosy picture for unemployment. Without additional relief, it said the unemployment rate won’t return to pre-pandemic rates for a decade.

Notably, the CBO projections don’t factor in any additional stimulus relief, including the $1.9 trillion relief package currently being negotiated. David Kelly, the chief global strategist at JPMorgan Funds, said the potential positive impacts that the stimulus package could include bringing the unemployment rate below 5% by the end of the year.

It’s another entry in the story of America’s uneven pandemic recovery, where millions – particularly women of color and younger workersremain unemployed and many are falling into poverty as concern grows that markets are in a a bubble. In fact, a “baby bubble” may be forming, DataTrek cofounder Nicholas Colas said in a note on Wednesday.

Wall Street and Main Street are still “historically disconnected,” as Insider reported in late 2020 – and that could just send stocks higher.

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