How coronavirus is affecting the U.S. labor market : The Indicator from Planet Money The BLS jobs report for June was better than expected, but showed the U.S. economy is still suffering badly from coronavirus.
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Jobs In June

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Jobs In June

Jobs In June

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON, BYLINE: NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

CARDIFF GARCIA, HOST:

Hey, everyone. Cardiff and Paddy here. This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. Today's jobs Thursday for a change. Normally the monthly jobs report comes out on a Friday, but, of course, tomorrow is a holiday. So this morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the jobs report for the month of June. The economy is still in rough shape, but this report at least was better than expected.

PADDY HIRSCH, BYLINE: Yes, better than expected. The economy created 4.8 million new jobs in June. This reflected a lot of businesses, especially restaurants and bars, hiring back workers that they let go early in the pandemic.

GARCIA: But, of course, it is always important to explain the context behind the jobs report, so you got to look at the details. For example, even after these good numbers for June, the economy still has almost 15 million fewer jobs than it did back in February. That was back when the pandemic was just starting to damage the economy. So to put this another way - only about 1 out of every 3 jobs lost during the pandemic has actually been regained.

HIRSCH: And even that might be a wee bit too optimistic. Let's not forget the data for this jobs report was collected about three weeks ago, and that was before the big spike in COVID cases across the United States. Since then, a lot of businesses have closed back up and started laying off workers again. So it is possible, maybe even likely, that the gains in June have simply been overstated.

GARCIA: And so to help us go even deeper into this jobs report and really spot the trends that matter, we called up three economists who really know how to dissect the hell out of this thing. They're like our go-to ninja squad of jobs day economists - Martha Gimbel, Gbenga Ajilore and Nick Bunker. They have each chosen one indicator from the June jobs report that tells an important story, and they're going to share with us those indicators right after a quick break.

OK, three indicators from the June jobs report that tell an important story of what's going on in the economy. First up is Gbenga Ajilore. He's a senior economist at the Center for American Progress, a think tank.

GBENGA AJILORE: I want to look at the unemployment rate for women of color, so looking specifically at African American women and Latinas.

GARCIA: The unemployment rate for Black women fell from 16 1/2% in May to 14% in June. And the unemployment rate for Hispanic women also improved. It fell from 19% to 15.3%. So those are pretty big declines. That's good news. But these unemployment rates for both Black and Hispanic women, they are still a lot higher than the overall unemployment rate for the whole economy, which is now 11.1%.

HIRSCH: Gbenga looks at the labor markets for Black and Hispanic women for a couple of reasons. First is that it's important to focus on the workers that historically have suffered the worst economic outcomes, and this very much applies to women of color, who tend to have lower incomes and assets than other groups and who disproportionately have to juggle working with taking care of children and elderly relatives.

GARCIA: Yeah, and the second reason is that the labor markets for Black and Hispanic women also tell an important story about specific parts of the economy. For example, the leisure and hospitality sector, so that's things like restaurants and bars and hotels, that sector employs a very high share of Hispanic women, Gbenga says.

AJILORE: In March and April, especially April, we saw a huge drop in the restaurant sector. And Latinas had an unemployment rate almost 20%. And so now it's dropped in the last month because of all these restaurants reopening, people are going out.

HIRSCH: And there's a similar story about the state and local government sector. These are public sector jobs, many of which employ a high share of Black women.

AJILORE: So we're looking at elementary and high school teachers. We're looking at even just staff in the education sector that a lot of women, Black women, are in those kind of jobs. We also look at health and public health, that nursing assistance is one of the highest employers of African American women. And so we saw some job gains this month in that sector.

GARCIA: So there were definitely improvements in the labor market for Black and Hispanic women in June, but Gbenga says he is still quite nervous. The big spike in COVID cases over the last three weeks in states like Arizona, Florida and Texas means that a lot of bars and restaurants might have to close up again, and that would reverse some of the gains for Hispanic women. And if the federal government does not start providing more aid to state and local governments in the next stimulus bill, that could also make things worse for Black women. So that is what Gbenga is going to be watching.

HIRSCH: Our next indicator comes from Nick Bunker. He's an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab.

NICK BUNKER: My indicator is the number of people who move from having a job to not having a job in June. That number was 7.5 million in June.

GARCIA: 7.5 million people went from having a job to not having a job. Now, that includes people who quit their jobs and also people who were let go, but it is mostly people who were let go. So just for the sake of keeping this simple, we are going to refer to this as 7.5 million people who lost their jobs in June.

HIRSCH: Now you might think, hang on a second. I thought the economy gained jobs in June. That's true overall because there were more workers being hired than workers who'd lost their jobs.

GARCIA: And so here is why Nick wants to separate those two things, people who were hired versus people who lost their jobs. The people who were hired included a lot of people who were being rehired into their old jobs after they had been let go in the early months of the pandemic. But the people who were losing their jobs now, those jobs are more likely to be jobs that won't be recovered anytime soon.

HIRSCH: Yeah, think about it. If you're a business and you're letting go of workers now, you're doing it months into the pandemic. It is a considered, deliberate decision. It's not as likely to be short-term. And for 7.5 million people to lose their job at this stage, that is a huge number, says Nick.

BUNKER: And that 7.5 million number, you know, not just a large number on its face. It's also much higher than what we we're seeing before the crisis. And it's also larger than the worst month we saw during the Great Recession.

GARCIA: And that indicator also segues into the third and final indicator. This indicator comes from Martha Gimbel, who is the senior manager of economic research at Schmidt Futures.

MARTHA GIMBEL: So my indicator was the number of people who are what the Bureau of Labor Statistics refers to as permanent job losers. And that is 2.9 million.

HIRSCH: A permanent job loser as someone who was let go from a job that they don't expect to get back. When the government puts together its monthly jobs report, it asks people about why they're unemployed. And there are several different potential answers.

GIMBEL: You can be on temporary layoff. You can have permanently lost your job. You can have completed a temporary job. You can be a reentrant into the labor force but you're unemployed. You know, there's a bunch of reasons why you can be unemployed. Permanent job loss is one that's really scary.

GARCIA: Back in March, the number of people saying they were permanently unemployed was only about 1.5 million. So it has almost doubled since then. And this is a big problem because, again, it suggests that the kinds of jobs people are losing now are not the kinds of jobs that will return soon. And Martha says that is a trend that people are increasingly starting to recognize.

GIMBEL: And so in March, you know, the Bureau of Labor Statistics was surveying people and said, is your job loss temporary? And people said yes. And so a lot of these job losses in March probably were already permanent, but people and businesses didn't realize that. They didn't realize how long this crisis was going to go on for. They didn't realize how bad it was going to get. And so what you're seeing now is workers and businesses starting to realize that some of these workers aren't going back to work anytime soon.

GARCIA: Put them all together, and these indicators from Gbenga, Martha and Nick tell a consistent story, which is that yes, a lot of workers have been hired back into jobs that they lost at the start of the pandemic. But first, not that many workers. Only about a third of jobs have actually been recovered. And second, the jobs that are still being lost now are very likely the kinds of jobs that will be tough to get back.

This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Camille Petersen and fact-checked by Brittany Cronin. Our editor and today's co-host is Paddy Hirsch, and THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR.

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