Job market continues to bounce back from the pandemic

The unemployment rate keeps dropping while the number of employed keeps rising, though the market remains softer than its pre-pandemic levels, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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The US job market continues its fight to recover from the economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

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A report released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the unemployment rate inched down to 6% in March from 6.2% in February. The number of employed in the United States (nonfarm payroll employment) jumped by 916,000 last month, a healthy improvement over the gain of 379,000 in February. Job growth was especially heavy in the leisure and hospitality, public and private education, and construction sectors.

The BLS said that these improvements reflected the continued resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The March results were derived from two surveys; a household survey that measures labor force status and unemployment by demographic factors, and an establishment survey that measures nonfarm employment, hours and earnings by industry.

Though the latest numbers are cause for optimism, they’re still weaker than their pre-pandemic levels. The March unemployment rate is dramatically lower than its recent high in April 2020 but is 2.5 percentage points higher than its level in February 2020. The number of unemployed people of 9.7 million is 4 million higher than in February of last year.

Among individuals unemployed, the number on temporary layoff fell by 203,000 in March to 2 million, down from a high of 18 million in April 2020 but 1.3 million higher than in February 2020. The number of permanent jobs lost was 3.4 million last month, 2.1 million more than in February 2020.

The number of people who were employed only part time was 5.8 million in March, 1.4 million higher than in February 2020. This number points to those who would have preferred full-time jobs but are working part time because their hours were reduced or they simply couldn’t find full-time jobs.

The coronavirus continues to affect the job market in other significant ways.

The percentage of all employed people who worked from home in March was 21%, down a bit from 22.7% the previous month. This level points to those who teleworked for pay at some point over the past four weeks specifically because of the pandemic.

More than 11 million people said they had been unable to work last month because their employer either shut down or lost business as a result of the pandemic, a number that dipped from 13.3 million in February. And among people not currently working, 3.7 million were unable to look for work due to the pandemic, down from 4.2 million the prior month.

The trend carried over into the technology and business sectors where the labor market is improving but is still shakier than at the start of 2020. Employment in professional and business services rose by 66,000 last month but was down by 685,000 since February of last year. Hiring did rise by more than 8,000 people in management and technical consulting services and by more than 6,000 people in computer systems design and related services.

The ongoing lockdown due to the virus also continues to limit in-person job interviews but has spurred demand for virtual interviews and employment apps.

“Virtual hiring and recruitment apps have become a go-to source recently as job hiring surges, but social distancing constrains options like in-person interviews,” said Lexi Sydow, head of marketing insights for App Annie. “Apps like HireVue and Spark Hire that specialize in live video interviewing have seen this growth firsthand—collectively seeing nearly half a million downloads in Q1 2021 alone to date. Furthermore, traditional apps like LinkedIn and Indeed have added new features to help users signal to recruiters that they are open to new work.”

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