The national economy added just 49,000 jobs in January after losing a revised 227,000 jobs in December, the Labor Department reported today, underscoring the severe effects of the winter pandemic spike on Americans’ willingness to shop, eat in restaurants or travel large distances.
Despite the small job gain, the unemployment rate fell 0.4 points, to 6.3 percent, lowering the number of unemployed persons to 10.1 million. Total employment is almost 10 million–or 6.6 percent–short of where it was a year ago, when the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent and just 5.7 million people were officially unemployed, or 7.7 percent when the underemployed and discouraged workers are counted. That alternative rate of labor utilization, a more accurate count of the unemployed and underemployed, is currently 11.1 percent, down from 11.7 percent last month.
It includes 7 million workers who were not counted as unemployed in the official statistics because they had not actively looked for work in the four weeks surveyed by the Labor Department. It also includes 6 million workers who are employed part-time because they couldn’t find full time work, or because their hours were cut back. Those are termed the involuntary part-time workers.
Some 14.8 million people reported that they had been unable to work or were forced to work fewer hours because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic, with 12.7 percent of them receiving some pay for hours not worked. That’s an improvement of 1.1 million workers over December. In January, 23.2 percent of the workforce worked remote in some fashion in the four weeks surveyed.
The leisure and hospitality sector, including hotels, amusement parks, restaurants and bars lost 61,000 jobs after losing 536,000 in December. The sector had lost 8.2 million jobs last spring when the nation locked down, recovering about half those jobs until November. But the sector is still 3.9 million jobs short of where it was before the coronavirus pandemic, or 22.9 percent below its pre-covid level.
Retail trade lost 38,000 jobs in January after adding 135,000 jobs the previous month, accounting for holiday sales. Health care saw a drop of 30,000 jobs, led by a 19,000-job loss in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Transportation and warehousing, manufacturing and construction also saw job losses, but not as steep as other sectors.
Sectors gaining jobs included professional and business services, which often can afford their employees the opportunity to work from remote locations. That sector added 97,000 jobs. Local, public education added 49,000 jobs, with state and private schools adding another 70,000. Wholesale trade and mining added a modest number of jobs.