Live Market Updates: Stocks Edge Higher as Stimulus Talks Continue

The American economic recovery continues to slow, stranding millions who have yet to find a new job after being thrown out of work by the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest evidence came Friday when the Labor Department reported that employers added 245,000 jobs in November, the fifth month in a row that the pace of hiring has tapered off. The figure for October was revised downward to 610,000, from the initially stated 638,000.

The unemployment rate in November was 6.7 percent, down from the previous month’s rate of 6.9 percent. But that figure does not fully capture the extent of the joblessness because it doesn’t include people who have dropped out of the labor force and are not actively searching for work.

Unemployment rate

By Ella Koeze·Unemployment rates are seasonally adjusted.·Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

November’s job totals were dragged down in part by the loss of 93,000 temporary census workers who are no longer needed now that the official counting has wound down.

More than half those knocked out of a job early in the pandemic have been rehired, but there are still roughly 10 million fewer jobs than there were in February. Many people in that group are weeks away from losing their unemployment benefits, as the emergency assistance approved by Congress last spring is set to expire at the end of the year.

“We’re in an unusual position right now in the economy,” said Ernie Tedeschi, an economist at the accounting firm Evercore ISI. “Far off in the distance there is sunlight” because of progress on a vaccine, he said, but until then, “we’re going to have a few of the toughest months of this pandemic, and there will be a lot of scars left to heal.”

The number of people who have been unemployed long-term is still rising

Share of unemployed who have been out of work 27 weeks or longer

By Ella Koeze·Data is seasonally adjusted.·Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Covid-19 caseloads have doubled in the past month, leading to new restrictions and tamping down shopping and other commerce. In much of the country, colder weather is likely to discourage outdoor dining, which many restaurants have depended on. And Congress has been unable to agree on a new spending package to help struggling businesses and households.

A restaurant worker cleaned tables in Detroit earlier this month. Labor force participation seems to be stagnating well below its pre-pandemic levels.
Credit…Elaine Cromie for The New York Times

The share of Americans either working or looking for a job — a figure known as labor force participation — fell in November and remains far below levels seen before the pandemic, a sign that the recovery remains incomplete as 2020 nears its end.

The labor force participation rate declined to 61.5 percent last month, down from 61.7 percent in October. In February, before pandemic-tied layoffs started, the figure stood at 63.4 percent.

For workers in their prime working years, defined as 25 to 54, participation is now at 80.9 percent, down from 81.2 percent in October and 83 percent in February.

That labor force participation seems to be stagnating well below its pre-pandemic levels is a cause for concern. In the wake of the 2007-9 recession, labor force attachment for people in their prime working years remained depressed for years, serving as a sort of “shadow” source of would-be workers even as the unemployment rate declined.

It is unclear whether that dynamic will repeat itself following this downturn, which has been very different.

But as the pandemic drags on, workers are again finding themselves on the labor market’s sidelines. That has been especially true for prime-working-age women, who are disproportionately employed in service jobs most affected by efforts to contain the spread of infection and who have been more likely to drop out of the labor market because of family care responsibilities. That has mattered as schools fully or partly close, leaving children at home.

Federal Reserve officials and other economic policymakers are watching figures like labor force participation — and how they are playing out across different demographic groups — as they take stock of the recovery.

“The economic dislocation has upended many lives and created great uncertainty about the future,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed’s chair, told lawmakers in testimony this week, adding that “we will not lose sight of the millions of Americans who remain out of work.”

As the coronavirus pandemic keeps shoppers out of stores and employees working from home, it’s no surprise that some of November’s biggest gains in hiring were in transportation, warehouse and health care jobs.

Employers also continued hiring people in the business and professional services sector.


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