Like a gender reveal gone wrong, last week’s employment report delivered an unexpected surprise.
Economists estimated 975,000 new jobs would be created in April. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported there were just 266,000. That’s a big miss.
Economists, analysts, and the media offered a wealth of theories to explain the shortfall. These included:
· Pandemic fear. A March U.S. Census survey found 4.2 million people aren’t working because they fear getting or spreading the coronavirus, reported Gwynn Guilford of The Wall Street Journal. That’s more than half of the 8.2 million non-farm jobs that need to be recovered to reach pre-pandemic employment levels.
· Too-generous unemployment benefits. Another theory is federal unemployment benefits ($300 a week) have created a labor shortage. The theory is being tested. Last week, Montana announced it will no longer participate in federal unemployment programs. Instead, it will offer a $1,200 return-to-work bonus, reported Greg Iacurci of CNBC.
· Low pay. Some say Americans are less willing to work for low pay than they were before the pandemic. Christopher Rugaber of the AP interviewed a Texas staffing office manager who reported job seekers are turning down jobs that pay less than unemployment benefits.
A former retail worker told Heather Long of The Washington Post, “The problem is we are not making enough money to make it worth it to go back to these jobs that are difficult and dirty and usually thankless. You’re getting yelled at and disrespected all day.”
· Lack of childcare. Many women who want to work left jobs during the pandemic to care for children. The April employment report showed a slight decrease in the rate of unemployment for adult women; however, it resulted from women giving up on job searches rather than finding work. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported, “…more women continued to exit rather than enter the workforce: 165,000 fewer women had jobs or were actively looking for work in April than in March.”
· Quirky data. Statistical distortions or seasonal factors could be responsible. “The more time the market has to digest [the] report, the more the report seems a bit of an anomaly relative to other data,” said a deputy chief investment officer cited by Mamta Badkar and Naomi Rovnick of Financial Times.
Other data include the ADP® National Employment Report™ which showed 742,000 new jobs in April. The report reflects real-time data on one-fifth of U.S. private payroll employment.
· Rethinking work. “There is also growing evidence – both anecdotal and in surveys – that a lot of people want to do something different with their lives than they did before the pandemic. The coronavirus outbreak has had a dramatic psychological effect on workers, and people are reassessing what they want to do and how they want to work, whether in an office, at home, or some hybrid combination,” reported The Washington Post.
U.S. financial markets shrugged off the news. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index finished the week at a record high, and 10-year Treasury rates finished Friday where they started.
(The one-year numbers in the scorecard below remain noteworthy. They reflect the strong recovery of U.S. stocks from last year’s coronavirus downturn to the present day.)