US could see employment recovery in January

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A nationwide drop in COVID-19 cases and improvements in economic indicators have raised hopes that the United States (US) labour market is on the upswing, and government data out yesterday showed how strong that recovery is.

The Labour Department released its January employment report, providing the latest unemployment rate and showed how many jobs the economy added or lost last month.

The December report brought ill tidings, with the unemployment rate flat at 6.7 per cent as the economy lost 140,000 positions after states imposed new business restrictions to cope with surging coronavirus infections.

In the weeks since, the US has seen a nationwide decline in new cases, prompting states to ease those measures, and government and private surveys have picked up signs of improvement.

“Our forecast is a 200,000 increase in January payrolls. But the balance of risks probably is to the upside; we’d be much less surprised by a 500,000 overshoot to the consensus than a 500,000 undershoot,” Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said.

Business shutdowns starting in March to stop COVID-19 from spreading caused mass layoffs and a surge in the unemployment rate to 14.7 per cent, but it has declined in the months since, albeit at an increasingly slow rate.

The December report was the first contraction in payrolls since the crisis began, though the drop did not change the overall jobless rate. The weeks to follow have brought signs hiring is improving.

The Labour Department reported new claims for jobless benefits declining for the past three weeks straight, though the monthly employment report covers the week containing the 12th of the month, and might not capture all of those improvements.

Construction workers talk at a USA Properties Fund site in Simi Valley, California. PHOTO: AP