After a promising month of job growth in February, the upcoming March jobs report will provide more meaningful insight into how rapidly the economy is rebounding after being ravaged by Covid-19.
Economists expect strong job growth in March, similar to last month’s, which was propelled by the continued reopening of the hospitality and leisure industries, two of the hardest-hit sectors. Last month saw a total of 379,000 added jobs, while unemployment slightly fell from 6.3% to 6.2%.
Vaccination efforts have continued picking up steam, with the U.S. on track to have administered 100 million in the coming days and President Joe Biden setting a goal of doubling that number within his first 100 days.
“Clearly, the strong case of vaccinations is impressive,” said Michelle Meyer, chief U.S. economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, “and I think that feeds into this reopening story that if reopening is continuing, that people can reengage, they can go back and travel, they can go back and go to restaurants, they can engage in in-person events in a way they couldn’t before.”
The $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, which President Biden signed earlier this month, will likely not play into the upcoming job numbers, with the Department of Labor conducting its survey before the bill’s approval. However, that package will provide much-needed relief to state and local governments, allowing them to keep their payroll employees.
Similarly, the $1,400 checks and continued unemployment benefits will lead to more spending, incentivizing businesses to hire to meet demand.
One of the great unknowns of the current recession is whether those who left the workforce will find their way back. With the lopsided recession, which has disproportionately affected women and people of color, many remain sidelined because of health concerns, childcare obligations, and a reduced job sector.
While the vaccines and school reopenings have mitigated many of those incumbrances, faith in finding a job in this climate has waned in recent months. ZipRecruiter found that job postings in February were 15% higher than during the same month last year.
Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter, said her company asked people if they were confident they’d find a good job. She said that in January, 62% said they’d find a better job than they had in the past, but this month it dropped to 50%.
“Even as job seekers’ prospects are actually improving, they’re growing fatigued,” Pollak said. “Their length of unemployment is growing. A lot of people who are unemployed now were laid off for the first time in March last year.”
Even if the U.S. continues adding jobs at this rate, the labor market still has a crater-sized hole, with 9.5 million fewer jobs than there were in February of last year. And that figure doesn’t account for the jobs that would’ve been created had growth continued at pre-pandemic levels, which would mean the country is down about 12,000,000 jobs.
“We will fill that in a little bit, but it will still be huge,” said Heidi Shierholz, director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute. “So I think the main story coming out of this will be: ‘excellent direction, still terrible level.’ We’re seeing strong job growth but we still have a long way to go.”