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U.S. Employers Added 661,000 Jobs In September


The economic recovery from the coronavirus appears to be losing steam. Today we learned that U.S. employers added 661,000 jobs last month. That's less than half as many jobs as were added in August, and it's the third month in a row that job growth has slowed. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now.

And, Scott, this is the last snapshot of the labor market we're going to get before the November election. What's the White House saying about it?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: It's not exactly the bumper sticker the president would have wanted for this stretch of the campaign. Of the 22 million jobs that were lost in March and April, only a little over half have been recovered so far. And White House economic adviser Tyler Goodspeed acknowledges at this rate, it could take a long time before the rest of those jobs - almost 11 million - are filled again.

TYLER GOODSPEED: We were definitely hoping for a bigger jobs gain. The recovery has been much faster and much stronger than any of us expected, but I think that there's - you know, there's a lot of work left to do. And, you know, the remaining 48% of jobs are the heavy lifting.

MOSLEY: But, Scott, the unemployment rate did come down last month. It fell just 7.9%.

HORSLEY: Yes, and that's a lot lower than people might have expected when the pandemic first took hold. Back in April, unemployment soared to almost 15%, and a lot of forecasters thought it would remain in double digits all this year. But while 7.9% is an improvement, it's still dangerous territory for a president who's about to face the voters.

Unemployment is higher now than it was in the fall of 2012, when President Obama won reelection. It's higher than it was in the fall of 1992, when George H.W. Bush lost his bid for a second term. And what's more, we're talking 7.9% of a smaller workforce because hundreds of thousands of people dropped out of the workforce last month, especially women. Four times as many women left the workforce in September as men.

BETSEY STEVENSON: It was a really startling difference. There's no way to look at that number and conclude anything other than the fact that the child care crisis is wreaking havoc on women's employment.

HORSLEY: Betsey Stevenson's an economist at the University of Michigan, and her own kids are taking classes from home right now. She counts herself lucky to have help from a nanny, but she says for a lot of working moms, you know, the extra demands of cooking and cleaning and schooling during this pandemic have just proven to be too much.

STEVENSON: Even when men are doing more than they've perhaps done in any other generation, it's still not half. And what's happened is the amount of work that has to be done at home got bigger, and I think women are really struggling with the fact that they have to do more than half.

HORSLEY: And this just compounds what we saw early in the pandemic, when women were disproportionately hit by layoffs in restaurants and retail shops and hotels, all of which employ or used to employ a lot of women.

MOSLEY: Restaurants and retailers added workers last month, but the travel industry continues to struggle. Where do things go from here?

HORSLEY: Yeah - not much relief in sight for airlines or theme parks, which have recently announced tens of thousands of additional job cuts, which are not reflected in this September jobs report. So next month's report could be even weaker. And at the same time, government relief measures that had been helping to prop up the economy have mostly run out of gas. Now, there were talks this week between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, but they've yet to bear fruit. Pelosi is urging airlines to hold off on their job cuts in hopes that more help may be coming soon.

MOSLEY: Yeah, so between the president's diagnosis and a disappointing jobs report, there was a lot to really process today. How did financial markets react?

HORSLEY: Stocks slid at the opening bell today. The Dow fell more than 300 points. But we have seen larger swings than that just in recent days. And throughout the day, stocks pared their losses, partly on hopes of a new federal relief package. The Dow closed down 134 points or just about half a percent.

MOSLEY: That's NPR's Scott Horsley.

As always, thank you.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you.


Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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