(Reuters) — The grip of the coronavirus pandemic on the US labor market loosened significantly in March, two years after the declaration of a state of emergency, as the number of people confined to their homes by Covid-19 concerns 19 hit a new low and fewer people reported having to work remotely.
In total, the government’s benchmark monthly non-farm payrolls report released on Friday showed that by several measures – including the total number of unemployed falling below 6 million and an unemployment rate of 3.6% – the The US labor market had mostly recovered from the devastating blow inflicted in the first two months of the pandemic when 22 million people were laid off.
The main report and an additional survey illustrated the rapid containment of the pandemic and was consistent with recent health data showing the fewest new infections since July and hospitalizations over the past week, on average the lowest since the initial surge in March. and April 2020.
“There are still challenges,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in an interview. But “you can almost feel the mood of the country changing”.
A litany of data points painted a picture of employment reminiscent of February 2020, then heralded as one of the strongest post-World War II labor markets. Among them:
• The labor force participation rate for women aged 25-54, which has seen an uneven recovery, jumped the most since June 2020, seven tenths of a percentage point. Now at 76.5%, it is only four-tenths of a point from where it was before the pandemic.
• The broadest measure of unemployment that also captures those marginally attached to the labor force or working part-time for economic reasons fell to 6.9%, below February 2020 level and a fraction of a record low .
• Overall employment has climbed just 1% below its pre-pandemic level, but minority groups have more than fully recovered: total employment among Blacks, Hispanics and Asians now exceeds levels of February 2020.
The report also showed that the disease itself had its smallest impact on worker behavior since the start of the pandemic.
Only 874,000 people are believed not to have looked for work in the previous four weeks because of Covid-19, compared to 1.23 million in February and 1.81 million in January when the Omicron variant drove US infections to a record high .
In May 2020 – the first month the Bureau of Labor Statistics launched its supplemental survey of the effects of the pandemic on the labor market – some 9.7 million people had not looked for work due to the epidemic. of coronavirus.
“People feel more comfortable going back to work,” Walsh said. “More people (do) their shopping. Hospitality and leisure are really benefiting.”
And only 10% of those in employment said they had telecommuted or worked from home because of Covid-19, a figure representing around 15.8 million workers. It’s also a pandemic-era low and represents about a third of the number of people reporting the need to work remotely in May 2020.
“I don’t know what the new normal will be, but it’s a good sign for getting more people into the job market,” Walsh said. The challenge in the coming months is that “we’re going to start to run out of people”, a fact which he says should make efforts to increase immigration a priority.
In conversations with employers, “no one told me it was a bad idea.”