A breakdown of the October jobs report : The Indicator from Planet Money The US economy added more than 600,000 jobs in October. Team Indicator assembles the Jobs Friday Ninja squad to get their take.
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Jobs Friday: Not Bad, Not Not Bad

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Jobs Friday: Not Bad, Not Not Bad

Jobs Friday: Not Bad, Not Not Bad

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Hey, everyone. It's Cardiff. This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. And I'm joined here today by editor Paddy Hirsch.

Paddy, hello. It's been...


GARCIA: ...Quite a week here in America.

HIRSCH: Quite a week - I don't know. Did you ever see that movie "The Longest Day"? This has been like the longest week.

GARCIA: Yeah, it's a day that feels like a decade.

HIRSCH: It really does. The positive spin, though, is, of course, that it has been democracy in action as this presidential election...

GARCIA: (Laughter).

HIRSCH: ...Has dragged on today. But don't let that obscure the fact that today is important for another reason.


HIRSCH: It is...


GARCIA: Absolutely.

HIRSCH: And this morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the BLS, released the jobs report for the month of October.

GARCIA: And, actually, there was some good news in the report. The unemployment rate fell from 7.9% to 6.9%, and the economy created 638,000 jobs last month - not bad.

HIRSCH: Not too shabby - but caveat...


HIRSCH: The economy still has about 10 million fewer jobs than before the pandemic hit. And some industries, like restaurants and bars, remain in just terrible shape, so there's still a long way to go before the labor market even just returns to where it was at the start of the year.

GARCIA: Yup, it's a great point. And as we often do on jobs Friday, we have assembled a crew of three jobs day experts or jobs day ninjas, as...

HIRSCH: Ninjas.

GARCIA: ...We like to call them. Yeah. And they are each going to offer us a single indicator that they pulled from the jobs report that they think is especially interesting and important to understand right now. And that is coming up after a quick break.

HIRSCH: Does that mean we get three indicators?

GARCIA: Yes, that's what that means, indeed.

HIRSCH: Oh, bargain.


GARCIA: OK, first up from our jobs day ninja squad crew is Nick Bunker. Nick is the director of economic research for North America at the Indeed Hiring Lab, and here is the indicator that he is sharing from today's jobs report.

NICK BUNKER: So the indicator that I've looked at is the percent change in employment in low-wage industries since February. So right now in low wage industries, employment is 11.4% lower than it was back in February.

GARCIA: These are industries that pay, on average, about $18.50 an hour. And as Nick says, these industries have been hammered by the pandemic.

BUNKER: I think the biggest factor here is that the industries that have been hit hardest by the pandemic and continue to be most constrained by it disproportionately hire low-wage workers. So think about restaurants. That's an industry that's been devastated by the pandemic. It's still hard to see how employment is going to get back to February levels until we have this pandemic under control.

GARCIA: And the same thing is happening in parts of the travel industry, Nick says. Hotels, for example, also employ a lot of low-wage workers, but not many people are traveling, so jobs in hotels have disappeared. And here is how a decline of 11.4% in the total jobs for these industries compares against industries that pay higher wages.

BUNKER: So middle-wage industries - employment there is down 4.6% compared to February. And for higher-wage industries, they're down 3.8%.

GARCIA: In other words, those middle- and higher-wage industries are being a lot more resilient to the job loss than the lowest wage industries. OK, next up from today's roster of labor market experts is Heather Long. Heather is the economics correspondent at The Washington Post, and here's what she was zeroing in on in today's jobs report.

HEATHER LONG: I am still zeroed in on what is going on with women. This is still very much a she session, as it's come to be known.

GARCIA: Heather notes that a lot of the jobs that disproportionately employ a high share of women were especially targeted by the pandemic. This includes, by the way, those restaurant jobs that we just talked about. Two-thirds of food servers are women, and it also includes jobs in hotels and hair salons, for example. But things recently got even worse for women for another reason, Heather says.

LONG: Where things really diverge in this story is what happened in September when schools reopened, except most of them were still virtual or hybrid. We saw 865,000 women drop out of the labor force, and most of those were moms, moms of elementary-school-age kids. And you sat there in September and thought, is this kind of a fluke? But now we have the October data, and it's not so great there either. We did see some women come back in the labor force - 480,000. But that's only just over half of those losses from September.

GARCIA: Heather notes that this trend of parents dropping out of the labor force because they have to stay at home with their kids while schools remain unopened - it has affected mothers a lot more than fathers. And the updated numbers from today's jobs report, Heather says, are really quite striking.

LONG: As of October, six months into this recovery, there are 1.5 million fewer men in the labor force versus January and 2.2 million fewer women. The percent of women in the labor force today in October of 2020 was the same as 1988, so we've still wiped out decades of progress for women in the labor force.

GARCIA: Heather worries that this is going to hurt the long-term trajectory for the careers of all these women who have had to fall out of the labor force because, of course, they're not just without a job now. They've also been knocked off their career paths, the ability to rise up the ranks of their companies, get promoted, get raises. It's hard to get those possibilities back, and we know from studies that being out of the labor force for a year can really affect the long-term earnings of women.

LONG: And that hurts growth. That hurts the economy. That's less money that women are earning, and that's less money that those families are spending.

GARCIA: And our final jobs Friday expert is Benga Ajilore. He is a senior economist at the Center for American Progress, and here is the indicator that he has pulled out of the jobs report.

BENGA AJILORE: This might surprise a lot of people who know me, but my indicator is the unemployment rate for white men, which is 5.8%.

GARCIA: The unemployment rate for white men has fallen from a peak of about 12.5% back in April down to 5.8%. And Benga says the reason he singles out the unemployment rate for white men is precisely because it is so much lower than the unemployment rate for other groups.

AJILORE: So for Black men, it's 11.5%, which is the lowest it has been during this pandemic. For Black women, it's 9.2%, so this is the first month that they've dropped below double digits. And for Latinas, it's down to 9%, also dropped down below 10%. But again, we're looking at almost double the rate of white men.

GARCIA: And what Benga worries about is that the low unemployment rate for white men will lead policymakers to assume that the labor market is almost in fine shape and that, therefore, they don't need to do any more to stimulate the economy and get people back to work.

AJILORE: And one of the things in my work is I always try to focus on the labor market disparities - what's happening with African American men, Black women, Latinas. I even try to do Asian Americans or people with disabilities. And the numbers throughout this pandemic has shown that they are still in trouble, that they are still struggling. And I was very curious of why we don't see any policy. So then I turned it around and said, well, let's look at what's happening with white men. And if you look at the indicators for white men and seeing that their numbers are actually pretty good relative to other groups, to me, that kind of explains why we haven't seen any sort of fiscal relief since March or April of this year.

GARCIA: And that is it. Those are our three indicators from our three jobs day experts. But just like with the last jobs report, before we let Benga go, we asked him for a song recommendation; a song that's appropriate to this moment so that we can send our listeners into the weekend with it. Benga happens to be the one musician of our jobs day roster. He plays the bassoon. And since the presidential election count in Georgia has continued all throughout the week, here is the song recommendation that he gave us.

AJILORE: So the song I think that would be appropriate is Gladys Knight & The Pips' "Midnight Train To Georgia" and not just because of the presidential election but because there's going to be two runoffs for the Georgia Senate seat. And so I think a lot of us are going to be taking trains to Georgia over the next two months.


GLADYS KNIGHT: (Singing) He's leaving.

GARCIA: We wish everyone a merry and a restful weekend. This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Jamila Huxtable and fact-checked by Sean Saldana. Our editor is Paddy Hirsch, and THE INDICATOR is a production of NPR.


KNIGHT: (Singing) He said he's going back...

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