By Eric Morath and Hannah Lang
Hiring accelerated in February as restaurants and other
hospitality businesses reopened and coronavirus cases eased,
setting up the U.S. economy for broader growth this spring.
U.S. employers added 379,000 jobs in February -- the largest
monthly increase since October -- and January gains were revised
higher to 166,000 jobs, the Labor Department said Friday. The
hiring thaw comes after job growth froze earlier in the winter.
The unemployment rate, determined by a separate survey, ticked
down to 6.2% last month. The 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. Overall, the U.S. has 9.5
million fewer jobs that a year earlier, just before the coronavirus
pandemic took hold in much of the country.
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,
manufacturing and healthcare.
The gains reflect reduced business restrictions, more people
receiving vaccines, a lower level of Covid-19 infections and a
recent round of government aid to households and businesses, which
boosted consumer spending early this year.
"Some consumers are dipping their toes back in," said Nela
Richardson, a Ph.D. economist at human-resources software firm
Automatic Data Processing Inc. In addition to restaurants, there
were job gains at hotels, stores and personal services, such as
salons. "They're maybe not willing to fly off on an airplane, but
appear more willing to dine in at a neighborhood restaurant."
Dr. Richardson said she expects hiring to accelerate further in
the coming months, to more than a half-million jobs a month. "We'll
see a burst in hiring before things start to taper off again," she
The opening of service-sector jobs is aiding the employment
prospects of some workers disproportionately affected during the
pandemic. The unemployment rate for women, who are more likely to
hold jobs at stores and restaurants, fell to 6.1% in February.
Their rate is now below that of 6.3% for men.
The unemployment rate also declined for Latino and Asian
workers. However, the rate increased for Black workers to 9.9%.
"Hispanic and Asian workers, who saw large job losses last
spring, are increasingly being hired as service businesses start to
reopen," said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at job rating site
Glassdoor. "The elevated Black unemployment rate is a concern for
the overall economy. Historically we know Black workers tend to be
the first fired and last hired."
It took nearly a decade into the last economic recovery, which
began in 2009, for Black workers to see the unemployment rate gap
with white workers start to narrow.
Despite last month's gains, the leisure and hospitality sector
has 3.5 million fewer jobs than a year earlier, the Labor
Department said, showing the recovery is far from complete. The
Congressional Budget Office projects it will take until 2024 to
fully recoup jobs lost during the pandemic.
Friday's report showed job losses at all levels of government,
though the Labor Department noted disrupted school calendars have
changed usual hiring patterns. Employment in construction fell by
61,000 in February. Severe winter weather may have held down
employment in the sector, the department said.
Doctor and dentist offices and other non-hospital healthcare
providers added 36,000 jobs last month. The sector has mostly
recovered the more than 1 million jobs lost last spring, when
nonessential health services were ordered to close. Employment at
pharmacies and other personal-care stores, where many people are
getting vaccinated, is recovering at a faster pace than overall
Friday's report adds to signs that 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 11:52 ET (16:52 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.