The US economy bounced back strongly in February adding 379,000 jobs as more states reopened for business and more vaccines against the coronavirus became available.
The number was the largest gains the Department of Labor has recorded since November and came after jobs were lost in December and a lackluster January report when just 49,000 new jobs were added. The unemployment rate dropped slightly to 6.2%.
Coronavirus infection rates remain at high levels and close to 520,000 people have now died of Covid-19 but states including Texas, Massachusetts and New York have all moved to roll back business closures as more vaccine becomes available.
The latest job report means the US is still close to 10m jobs short of where it was before the pandemic hit and troubling signs remain in the employment market.
Nearly all, 355,000 jobs, of February’s gains were made in the leisure and hospitality industry as coronavirus restrictions eased and venues reopened. Other sectors, including local government, education and mining, lost jobs. The gains elsewhere were small.
The stark disparity in unemployment by race remained. The unemployment rate for white Americans was 5.6%, for Blacks it was 9.9%, and for Latinos 8.5%. The rate for teenage unemployment was 13.9%.
On Thursday the Department of Labor said it recorded 745,000 claims for unemployment insurance last week, an increase of 9,000 from the previous week. Another 437,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering gig workers, freelancers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits. Together the level of claims is more than five times as high as it was before the pandemic.
The still historically high number of claims has broken unemployment offices across the country. Some 8 million unemployed Americans have yet to receive benefits, Eliza Forsythe, an economist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has estimated, and unemployment systems are currently only reaching at most 30% of all unemployed workers.
Shannon Marie Van Skiver, a private caregiver in Arizona who lost her job because of coronavirus risks to her clients, recently saw her unemployment benefits expire. She is hoping state legislators in Arizona will fix the problem, while she is unsure how she will afford bills and take care of her five-year-old child without any income.
“I’ve applied to hundreds of jobs this month alone, and people are just not hiring because of Covid-19,” said Van Skiver. “I have my weekly payment from last week which will go toward February’s rent, but after that I have no idea.”