The US economy added 638,000 jobs last month in a sign that the labor market is slowly but steadily healing from the coronavirus pandemic, the feds said Friday.
October’s hiring pushed the unemployment rate down to 6.9 percent from 7.9 percent in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The jump was better than economists’ expectations for 600,000 jobs and not far behind September’s revised total of 672,000, offering hope that the economy’s reopening is maintaining some momentum.
“I think this month is reassuring that the recovery is at least somewhat durable and it doesn’t appear to be stalling completely,” Curt Long, chief economist and vice president of research at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions, told The Post. “It seems like we might be at a cruising pace.”
But the closely watched report still held signs that President Trump or Joe Biden will inherit a somewhat fragile recovery once a winner is declared in the too-close-to-call presidential election.
October was the fourth straight month in which job growth slowed after peaking at roughly 4.8 million in June. It’s taken the economy six months to recover just 54 percent of the 22 million jobs lost in March and April as COVID-19 brought the nation to a standstill.
The rest of those jobs won’t return until 2022 if hiring continues at its current pace, according to Long. Even that’s not guaranteed as the nation grapples with a third surge in coronavirus infections.
“The trajectory of the recovery is not set in stone, and resurgent headwinds could certainly derail progress,” Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao said. “This puts responsibility in the hands of policymakers and the next president to manage both the health and economic crises.”
October’s job growth may have been stronger if not for 147,000 temporary census workers losing their jobs, the figures show. Restaurants and bars continued to rebound by adding 192,000 jobs, while temporary help services added 109,000 and retailers gained 104,000, according to the feds.
In other encouraging signs, the labor force participation rate ticked up to 61.7 percent after dropping in September and the number of people saying they’ve lost their jobs permanently fell slightly to just under 3.7 million.
Employers, however, are still grappling with the financial fallout from the pandemic despite a record economic expansion in the third quarter, with big corporations from Disney to ExxonMobile announcing layoffs in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, Congress has so far failed to deliver another federal aid package to help struggling businesses and consumers. Economists say more stimulus spending is needed to keep the recovery going strong as the pandemic continues to rage.
“I’m not a big fan of extra government spending, but these are extraordinary circumstances, and unless we get that income support I think it’s going to be a very tough fourth quarter,” Dan North, senior economist at Euler Hermes North America, told The Post.