The labor market recovery slowed in October. While 638,000 more people got a job last month, this marked a continuing slowdown in job gains. Millions of people are still out of a job. The Republican majority in the senate has failed to pass another meaningful relief package and extra unemployment benefits ended in July. As a result, many families now face evictions, foreclosure and hunger heading into the fall and winter months.
The good news so far is that the labor market recovery continues, despite the raging pandemic. The labor market added 638,000 new jobs in October, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, marking the sixth month in a row jobs increased after the labor market bottomed out in April.
The bad news is that the labor market recovery is slowing in part because the pandemic is not under control. The job growth in October was the slowest since the labor market bottomed out in April 2020. Last month’s job gains are also a fraction of the job gains from May to August. In August 2020, which saw slower gains than the previous months, the labor market added 1.5 million jobs. October’s gains amount to 42.4% of that. The labor market is still 10.1 million jobs short of where it was in February of this year. At the current pace, it would take another 16 months to get to where the labor market was before the recession started, which does not account for population growth. Millions of laid off workers and new entrants into the labor market looking for a job will go without work for a long time.
Growing long-term unemployment reflects the worsening struggles of American families. The number of those unemployed workers looking for a job for 27 weeks or more rose by 1.15 million in October. The long-term unemployed now make up 32.5% of all unemployed workers. As a result, the average length of unemployment rose to 21.1 weeks in October, up from 20.7 weeks in September. Average weeks of unemployment were especially for Asians with 30.4 weeks of unemployment, Black workers with 24.7 weeks, and workers from 55 to 64 years old with 26.3 weeks in October 2020. Many workers have now been out of job for a long time without hope for a quick change in their fortunes.
Permanent job losses are also becoming more prevalent. Among White workers, for example, permanent job losses account for 34.4% of the unemployment, up from 30.6% in September, and among Black workers, 36.7% of the unemployed had permanently lost their job in October, up from 32.8% one month earlier. The outlook becomes increasingly dire for those who have permanently lost their jobs.
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The recession also continues to hurt women more than men. Black women had a much higher unemployment rate with 8.9% than White men, whose unemployment rate had dropped to 6.2% in October 2020. Asian women, also had an unemployment rate well above average with 8.3% in October and Latina women recorded an unemployment rate of 8.9%. Only White women had an unemployment rate with 5.9% that was below that of White men. And while White and Black women have seen somewhat greater improvements in their unemployment rates than was the case for White and Black men, some of these improvements came from larger shares of White and Black women leaving the labor force. The “she-cession” continues to take a toll on women’s financial security and their careers as many are caught between caring for children and family members and financially supporting their families.
Behind all of these numbers are millions of people lives and their daily struggles. For example, Census data show that 28.2% of those who had lost a job or were furloughed during the pandemic were not current on their rent in August and September, according to data from the Census. Similarly, 23% of homeowners with a mortgage, who had suffered a job loss during the pandemic, were not current on their mortgage payments. And 24.7% of households with a pandemic-related job loss often or always did not have enough food to eat in August and September 2020. This real economic pain will only become more widespread among the unemployment as federal assistance passed by Congress in the spring has disappeared.
Expeditious and consistent federal relief becomes especially important, when social insurance programs are weak and private savings have not yet recovered from the last recession. Median household wealth in 2019 was still below the levels before the previous recession from 2007 to 2009. Amid the last slow recovery, middle-class families increasingly borrowed to bridge the gap between their incomes and rising education and health care costs. They were then ill prepared for the multiple emergencies – unemployment, added health expenditures and higher childcare costs — that fell upon them when the pandemic hit in March of this year. They needed to rely on the goodwill of their elected representatives to help them out and that help has been in short supply.
Congress will need to act soon to help struggling Americans. The pandemic continues to surge across the country, threatens the health of millions of people, and slows economic activities as people become scared of the virus. Getting control of the pandemic will be an important step towards a stronger recovery, but this will take time, which many families do not have. Congress will need to pass relief legislation to help those suffering from the prolonged recession. Without such help, millions could be evicted from their homes and foreclosed on their houses, while their children go hungry.