Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 638,000 in October with the unemployment rate falling to 6.9%, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Friday. The improvements reflect the continued comeback of economic activity that had been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Notable job gains occurred last month in leisure and hospitality, professional and business, retail trade, and construction. However, employment in government declined.
The unemployment rate declined by 1 percentage point to 6.9%, and the number of unemployed people fell by 1.5 million to 11.1 million. Both of these measures, according to the BLS, have declined for six consecutive months but are still nearly twice their February levels—3.5% and 5.8 million, respectively.
“The strong economic rebound continues, with approximately 900,000 private-sector jobs gained back in September and again in October, and the October unemployment rate dropping a full point, to 6.9%,” said Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia in a statement. “Labor force participation increased, and Asian, Black, and Hispanic Americans all saw substantial decreases in unemployment. The unemployment rate for adult women is now lower than for adult men. As in September, job growth would have been even higher but for declines in government jobs. Teachers’ unions take note: School closures are bad not just for students, but for workers, too.”
The number of unemployed people on temporary layoff decreased by 1.4 million to 3.2 million. This is down from the high of 18.1 million in April but still 2.4 million above February’s level. The number of permanent job losers changed little month over month, coming in at 3.7 million.
While nonfarm payroll employment saw a rise in October and has been heading in the right direction for six consecutive months, it’s still well below its February level by 10.1 million, or 6.6%. The biggest gains were seen in leisure and hospitality employment—with an increase of 271,000. This sector has added 4.8 million jobs since April, but employment is still down by 3.5 million since February.
“There is reason to be cautiously optimistic about the state of the economy—six months of expansion is good news, but the deceleration in the pace of improvement signals a slowdown,” said First American deputy chief economist Odeta Kushi. “The path of the economic recovery is beholden to the path of the virus, and COVID cases have been on the rise, indicating new restrictions may be ahead.”
Construction also added 84,000 jobs last month. According to the BLS, specialty trade contractors added jobs, both in residential (+18,000) and nonresidential (+28,000) components. Employment also was up in heavy and civil engineering construction and in construction of buildings (+19,000 each). While construction has added 789,000 jobs in the past six months, it is still down by 294,000 since prior to the COVID-19 shutdowns.
“Residential building jobs initially rebounded strongly from April’s low point, which was the lowest level since 2016, and are continuing the slow increase to pre-pandemic levels. In the most recent report, jobs in residential building increased by 0.7% compared with one month ago, and hovers just 0.8% below its February level,” noted Kushi. “In September, the supply of homes for sale fell to its lowest supply level ever. Lack of available labor is one of several headwinds faced by home builders today. Today’s report is not only a signal that the broader labor market continues to rebound, but welcome news for a housing market in desperate need of more supply.”