Nonfarm payrolls increased by 1.37 million in August and the unemployment rate tumbled to 8.4% as the U.S. economy continued to climb its way out of the pandemic downturn.
The unemployment rate was by far the lowest since the coronavirus shutdown in March, according to Labor Department figures released Friday. An alternative measure that includes discouraged workers and those holding part-time jobs for economic reasons also fell, down to 14.2% from 16.5% in July and 22.8% at the peak in April.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been expecting growth of 1.32 million and the jobless rate to decline to 9.8% from 10.2% in July.
Markets rose sharply on the news, with Dow futures pointing to a gain at the open following an aggressive sell-off Thursday.
Government hiring helped boost the total, with the growth of 344,000 workers accounting for a quarter of the monthly gain. Most of that hiring came from Census workers, whose rolls increased by 328,000. Despite worries of a revenue crunch among at the municipal level, local government employment rose by 95,000.
The total of those on furlough also fell dramatically. There were 24.2 million people who said they not working because their employer either closed or lost business due to the pandemic, down from 31.3 million in July.
Other big job gains fame from retail, which added 249,000 positions, while professional and business services rose by 197,000 and leisure and hospitality, the hardest-hit sector during the pandemic, saw a gain of 174,000, most coming in bars and restaurants.
Education and health services also showed strong gains, at 147,000, while transportation rose by 78,000 due to a big gain in warehousing and storage jobs. Financial activities increased by 36,000 while manufacturing increased by 29,000 and wholesale trade was up by 14,000.
The report comes amid a raft of mostly positive economic signals, with retail sales, real estate and manufacturing showing sharp rebounds off their coronavirus lows. Still, economists worry that absent another round of stimulus from Congress, the boosts in activity could be short-lived. August’s job gains mean that more than half of those displaced during the pandemic are back at work.
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