US economy adding jobs with gusto as Delta wave subsides

© Agence France-Presse

US restaurants bore the brunt of the layoffs caused by the pandemic downturn and were again hammered by the Delta wave, but saw strong hiring in October

Washington (AFP) - More Americans went back to work in October as Covid-19 cases receded, indicating the world's largest economy had overcome the obstacle posed by the Delta wave of the virus and giving President Joe Biden a much-needed boost.

The better-than-expected report from the Labor Department released Friday showed the US economy added 531,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate declined to 4.6 percent, both signs of a vigorous pace in hiring by American businesses.

It was exactly the kind of news Biden was hoping for after a week that saw his Democrats suffer a sweeping defeat in Virginia's gubernatorial election, while the fate of one of the two spending bills he has staked his presidency on remains uncertain even as House lawmakers prepare to vote on both later Friday.

Biden hailed what he called a "historically strong recovery," spurred by massive government stimulus spending and the rapid deployment of vaccines.

"America is getting back to work. Our economy is starting to work for more Americans," he said at the White House. 

Industries that hired at a rapid pace last month included manufacturing, transportation and warehousing and leisure and hospitality, the sector encompassing bars and restaurants that suffered the brunt of the downturn when the pandemic began, the government said.

"We got an unambiguously strong October jobs report -- big job gain, unemployment fell, hours worked increased and wage growth is strong," tweeted Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics. 

He called it "strong evidence that as the Delta-wave of the pandemic winds down, the economy is revving back up."

The pace of hiring in August and September had tapered as the fast-spreading Delta variant again snarled business, but the latest report brought welcome news with revisions showing hiring was 235,000 higher than first reported.

Ground left to cover

The Republican opposition nonetheless criticized Biden's stewardship of the economy, saying the president deserves blame for rising inflation and continued worker shortages that are hampering business.

"After months of failed policies and bad jobs reports, the one person who does not deserve credit for creating jobs is Joe Biden," Republican National Committee head Ronna McDaniel said in a statement.

"Voters soundly rejected Biden's failed economic agenda at the ballot box this week and will do so again in 2022."

Despite October's gains, the report indicated there were still 4.2 million jobs missing from the economy compared to February 2020, before the world's largest Covid-19 outbreak began.

The numbers of permanent job losers and people on temporary layoff changed little over the month, and remain higher than before the pandemic, according to the report.

There was also no improvement in the labor force participation rate indicating the share of the people in the workforce, which was at 61.6 percent.

The Federal Reserve will surely take note of that as it gauges the economy's progress towards full employment, which is among its criteria for lifting rates from zero. 

The data also showed wages rose again last month and are up 4.9 percent over the past year, factors that could potentially sustain the price increases.

Employers report paying higher wages as the struggle to fill open positions, and government data for August showed there were over 10 million job openings.

- Bars and restaurants rehire -

A wide range of businesses took on staff in October, including bars and restaurants, who saw almost no recruitment in September but hired 119,000 people last month.

Manufacturers added 60,000 jobs, with 28,000 of those in the motor vehicle and parts industries, where factories have struggled amid the global semiconductor shortage.

Staffing in transportation and warehousing has climbed above its level before the pandemic, though the report noted about 65,000 job losses amid education employees.

There was little movement in the country's racial disparities in employment, with Black Americans seeing higher overall joblessness at 7.9 percent and Hispanics at 5.9 percent as compared to the four percent unemployment rate for white Americans.