The US labor market shrugged off election uncertainty and continued to add jobs in October. Despite the waning effects of fiscal stimulus and rising COVID-19 cases, per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US economy added 638,000 jobs, ahead of Bloomberg survey estimates calling for 580,000. The headline number was depressed by a 268,000 drop in government employment, including 147,000 temporary census workers. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate fell from 7.9% to 6.9% despite a rise in the labor force participation rate, a reversal of the dynamic we saw in September when unemployment fell while the labor force participation also declined.
However, a troubling trend remains beneath the surface. As shown in the LPL Chart of the Day, the number of long-term unemployed—those out of work for 27 weeks or longer—continues to rise as a share of the total unemployed:
“While the labor market has continued to show improvement, there are still many people out there who are having a hard time getting back to work,” noted LPL Chief Market Strategist Ryan Detrick. “With total jobs in the US around 10 million below pre-pandemic levels and rising COVID-19 cases, there’s a lot of room for improvement despite the declining unemployment rate.”
COVID-19 cases in the United States have reached record highs with a weekly trend growth rate above 20%, according to the COVID Tracking Project. As the weather cools and more activity shifts indoors, additional restrictions to limit the spread of the virus could slow the fragile labor market recovery.
In particular, much of the private sector gains in this month’s jobs report were in the services sector, where previous jobs reports had shown strength in goods-oriented industries. Many countries in Europe have reinstated restrictions or even gone as far as implementing new lockdowns. While we don’t expect lockdowns in the United States like we saw in March, restrictions on activity could limit future job gains.
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