By Eric Morath and Hannah Lang
Hiring accelerated sharply in February as restaurants and other
hospitality businesses reopened, adding 379,000 to U.S. payrolls
and fueling renewed growth as the coronavirus pandemic eases.
U.S. employers added jobs for the second straight month in
February, the Labor Department said Friday, in what marks a sharp
pickup from earlier this winter.
The unemployment rate, determined by a separate survey, ticked
down to 6.2% last month. The jobless rate is well down from a 14.8%
peak in April 2020, but remains above pre-pandemic levels, when
unemployment was near 50-year lows. The rate may also understate
the degree of job loss a year into the pandemic, many economists
say, because millions of American, particularly women, have dropped
out of the labor force.
In February most of the job gains occurred in the leisure and
hospitality sector, which includes restaurants, adding 355,000
jobs. There were smaller gains in temporary help services,
healthcare, retail and manufacturing.
While hiring is showing signs of accelerating, the U.S. still
had 9.5 million fewer jobs last month compared with a year earlier
-- just before the coronavirus took hold in the U.S.
"As we reopen the economy, inch-by-inch, that will unleash
consumer spending and drive job growth, especially industries that
have been most severely affected by the pandemic," said Nela
Richardson, a Ph.D. economist at human-resources software firm
Automatic Data Processing Inc.
Reduced business restrictions, more people receiving vaccines
and a lower level of Covid-19 infections relative to a January peak
are contributing to increased economic activity and should
translate into more robust hiring, Dr. Richardson said. She added
that restaurants, hotels, concert venues and stadiums -- all part
of the hospitality industry that lost some 4 million jobs last year
-- will lead what she expects to be a spring burst in hiring.
The Congressional Budget Office and many economists expect it
will take until 2024 to fully recoup jobs lost during the
There are signs the labor market and overall economy have
improved in recent weeks.
Worker claims for unemployment benefits -- a proxy for layoffs
-- fell in the latter half of February to their lowest level in
nearly three months, though they remain above the pre-pandemic
peak. Following back-to-back months of contraction, U.S. workers
reported for more shifts in February, said Ultimate Kronos Group, a
workplace software firm. And internet job boards showed openings
early this year returned to pre-pandemic levels, indicating
building demand for labor.
"We're desperately trying to hire because I don't see it slowing
down," said Bobbi Westerby, chief executive at Environmental
Consulting & Technology Inc. The Gainesville, Fla., firm, which
works on renewable energy and other projects, paused hiring last
spring due to the uncertainty the pandemic caused. It also lost
staff to retirements and employees stepping away to care for
children, Ms. Westerby said.
But the firm's revenue held up better than she initially
expected. By July of last year it needed to start hiring. The
215-person firm has 10 more employees than before the pandemic and
13 open positions it hopes to fill by April. Those roles, including
environmental technicians and project managers, generally required
Government-stimulus payments to individuals, federal loans to
businesses and enhanced unemployment benefits also appeared to
stoke the economy at the start of the year. Household income growth
surged in January, and consumers boosted their spending 2.4% from
December, the Commerce Department said. Demand for manufactured
goods is also rising this year, and home sales are trending at
All those factors should reinforce economic growth, especially
if more people grow comfortable with leaving their homes, and start
dining out and buying in-person services.
Centerline Logistics, a Seattle company that provides fuel to
ships in U.S. ports, is hiring to keep up with better-than-expected
demand. Volumes at ports where Centerline operates picked up last
fall as the demand for consumer goods rose ahead of the holidays,
and that demand has continued this year, Chief Executive Matt
"Ships are stacked up at the port as far as the eye can see," he
Mr. Godden said he expects increased leisure travel later this
year to result in more oil and fuel tankers arriving in ports. "We
needed more workers and equipment," he added.
The company acquired six additional fuel barges late last year
and is looking to add 70 workers to crew the larger fleet. The jobs
start at $45,000 a year and don't require college degrees, but do
require a willingness to work in the elements and the physical
ability to work on a boat.
Still, millions of workers who lost their jobs last year are
struggling to find work, especially in their prior fields.
Job loss also fell disproportionately on women and racial
minorities because they were more likely to hold in-person service
jobs that couldn't be done from home. Those workers
disproportionately fell out of the workforce, likely reflecting
family-care responsibilities and health concerns about returning to
in-person work, economists say.
Angela Moore, a 49-year-old actor and performer, applied for
unemployment benefits nearly a year ago, after her gigs quickly
dried up. The benefits help to pay for the mortgage and utilities
at her northern Virginia home, but little else, she said. She went
without air conditioning last summer because she couldn't afford
She started a temporary job in September at a call center. That
position ended in November, and Ms. Moore said her search for
another job was delayed when she was diagnosed with Covid-19. Ms.
Moore said she is still searching for full-time work but also faces
lingering effects of her infection, including headaches, fatigue
and difficulty concentrating.
"It's not that I don't want to work," she said. "But it's just
in terms of the opportunities, there are a lot less...And now I
feel like I have this gray cloud over me."
Write to Eric Morath at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
March 05, 2021 09:03 ET (14:03 GMT)
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