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The U.S. Has Regained Almost 3/4 Of The 22 Million Jobs That Were Lost Last Year

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today we learned that a lot of people in the U.S. went back to work this summer, and in many cases, they got a raise. The Labor Department announced that employers added 943,000 jobs last month. That's more than many forecasters were expecting, and it's the biggest jump in employment in 11 months. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now to put these numbers into context. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Where does this put the overall jobs recovery?

HORSLEY: We're not all the way out of the pandemic hole yet, but this was a pretty big step up. The U.S. has now regained almost three quarters of the 22 million jobs that were lost last year. And the good news is the pace of hiring is picking up after that soft patch back in April. Hiring figures for May and June were revised upwards today, and the unemployment rate dropped in July to 5.4%. At the White House, President Biden argued the improvements in the job market are partly the result of his policies, which put more money in people's pockets and more vaccine in people's arms.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: What is indisputable now is this. The Biden plan is working, the Biden plan produces results, and the Biden plan is moving the country forward.

HORSLEY: One caveat, though. Today's snapshot is based on surveys that were taken several weeks ago, and that was before the big new spike in coronavirus cases tied to the delta variant.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. In a moment, I want to get to what that implies. But first, let's focus on the good news. Like, where were these jobs being added? Who's doing the hiring?

HORSLEY: Once again, bars and restaurants had the most new hires. They accounted for about a quarter of all the jobs added last month. Restaurants have been seeing a lot more customers, and they've been hustling to hire more cooks and servers to keep up with that. Employment in the industry is still down about 10% from its pre-pandemic level.

The report also shows a lot of hiring by schools in July, although that may be a little bit inflated. The pandemic has disrupted a lot of school calendars, and that's made it harder for the Labor Department to do its usual seasonal adjustments. An interesting fact - almost 7 in 10 jobs added last month went to women, who are overrepresented both in restaurants and in school classrooms. But we did see hiring in some male-dominated fields as well, like construction and manufacturing and delivery jobs.

SHAPIRO: And we also mentioned that wages went up. Tell us more about that.

HORSLEY: Yeah. Wages are rising, and that suggests even though millions of people are still out of work, employers are having to compete more to find the help they need. That's particularly true in bars and restaurants, which have been really short-staffed as their business picks up. Wages in the hospitality sector have risen more than 9.5% over the last year. That's more than double the overall increase in the private sector. Even with those pay raises, restaurants are still a pretty low-wage industry but not quite as low as they used to be. In other industries, wages are rising more modestly, and unfortunately, in some cases, the bigger paychecks are being gobbled up by higher prices.

SHAPIRO: And also, as you said, this is based on data from a few weeks ago, before the big spike in cases from the delta variant. So what does this mean about the future?

HORSLEY: Yeah, that spike in new infections doesn't help. It could cause people to eat out and travel less, which would depress demand for workers. It could also depress the supply of workers if more people decide to wait longer before going back into the workforce or if the infections cause schools to stay closed longer. You know, a lot of working parents are counting on schools to - so they can go back to job. Even as he was touting the good July jobs numbers this morning, the president once again urged people who have not yet gotten vaccinated to go ahead and get the shot.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: My message today is not one of celebration. It's one to remind us we got a lot of hard work left to be done, both to beat the delta variant and to continue our advance of economic recovery.

HORSLEY: As worrisome as the growing infections are, though, financial markets were unfazed. Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 index ended this week at new record highs.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Scott Horsley, thank you.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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