U.S. Jobs: April Underwhelms After Not-So-Muscular March
After the mostly positive, if not downright rosy, jobs numbers in March, April comes as a massive downer both for expectations and previously positive trends in recent months. With only 266,000 jobs created for the month, and 146,000 trimmed from the March numbers (down from 916,000 to 770,000, thought offset by a gain of 78,000 for February), we're looking at a trailing three-month average of 523,000 jobs per month for February through April.
It's not horrible, but it's not as good as anyone had wished or hoped it might be. At the same time, unemployment rose slightly from 6.0 to 6.1 percent. But as Eli Rosenberg at the The Washington Post puts it, "(E)conomists caution the number is misleadingly low, given how many people have dropped out of the labor force in the last year, and are thus not counted as unemployed." Ouch!
Are We Stuck in a Hole? Perhaps�
As things currently stand, US employment is still down about 8 million jobs from where it stood in February 2020, just before the pandemic knocked the stuffing out of those numbers (770,000 jobs lost in March, followed by a 21 million-plus bloodbath in April). In other words, we sill have climbing to do to get back level with where we were before disaster struck.
There's no question that we're still "in the hole" as far as job counts go, but it's open to debate as to whether or not we're actually stuck there. It could just be that climbing out is going to be more challenging and time-consuming than labor economists once thought — while the rest of us fervently hoped it would be easy, fast and effortless.
It's pretty safe to say that such hopes and assumptions must now be called into question.
Enough Moralizing, What About the Numbers?
The "up" sectors, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report include the following:
Leisure and hospitality gained 331,000 jobs, which tells us already that losses stuck elsewhere (331,000 > 266,000 total reported across all sectors). Food services and drinking places account for more than half of the pick-up, at 187,000, with another 73,000 in amusements, gambling, and recreation, plus 54,000 in accommodations. People are going out more, and related businesses are ramping up to capitalize as things open up.
Other services increased by 44,000, with repair and maintenance up by 14,000, and a like number for personal and laundry services.
Local government education jobs slid upward by 31,000, and social assistance went up by 23,000. Add another 19,000 for financial activities, and you've rounded out the winners for April.
That overall total comes to 448K,000 (still less than the trailing three-month average of 523,000. But that's before we count in (or rather, out) the losing sectors. Those losing sectors include the following:
Professional and business services — up until now, a consistent gainer — lost 111,000 jobs.
Transportation and warehousing — ditto — lost 77,000 jobs.
Manufacturing employment dropped a relatively modest 18,000 jobs.
Retail employment likewise slid by 15,000 jobs.
Health care skidded down by a relatively minor 4,000 jobs (but still surprising because, it too, has mostly been an evergreen source for job growth).
Other sectors, including construction, mining, wholesale trade, and our home sector of information stayed mostly flat in April.
What Does CompTIA Say?
In tandem with the U.S. BLS reports, CompTIA usually provides a more nuanced and detailed look at information workers. CompTIA analyzes both the information sector itself (those who work for technology and information services companies) and those who work in IT for other companies outside that sector (what they call "IT occupation employment").
They claim a gain of 16,600 "IT employment" jobs in April overall. That said, they also claim job growth for all of 2021 for tech industry companies of 60,900, and 72,000 for IT occupation employment positions. This is somewhat rosier than the U.S. BLS report itself presents and suggests. Maybe IT pros should take some consolation from this latest press release?
A Bump in the Road Is Not the End of That Road, But�
What I take from this latest jobs report is that we've hit another bump in the road to recovery. Just how deep is this pothole? We'll know better next month, when we can compare its numbers to those for April, and the months preceding. One must hope that these next numbers will resemble those for February and March more than those for April, to nourish hopes of a more vigorous recovery.
As usual, however, only time will tell.