After a disappointing April jobs report, May looked significantly better with 559,000 new jobs added to the economy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s still a little short of the 650,000 jobs analysts predicted, but unemployment ticked down from 6.1% to 5.8%, the lowest since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020. “America is on the move again,” President Joe Biden declared in response to the report. “No other major economy is gaining jobs as quickly as ours, and none of this success is an accident,” he said, crediting the American Rescue Plan with boosting the recovery.
The Economic Policy Institute’s Elise Gould described the overall report as “a promising sign that the recovery is on track.” Gould continued, ”If this pace continues over the next year, we will likely get down to 4% unemployment by mid-2022 and will be fully recovered before the end of 2022, fully absorbing losses plus population growth.”
Another piece of good news is that women gained jobs after losing massive numbers of jobs throughout the pandemic, accounting for 56.2% of the new jobs in May. It’s just a start—women would need to gain jobs at that rate for 13 months straight to get back to where things stood in the before times, according to the National Women’s Law Center—but a start is better than another month of continuing to fall behind. Women’s labor force participation rose from 57.2% in April to 57.4% in May, still behind the February 2020 rate of 59.2%.
Nonetheless, there are still 7.6 million fewer jobs than in February 2020, with a total jobs gap of at least 8.6 million (to account for jobs growth that would normally have happened since then).
Once again, in contrast to the claims that restaurants are having trouble finding workers because of high unemployment benefits, the hospitality industry had big growth, adding 292,000 jobs. And while wages rose in hospitality, a possible sign of a labor shortage, EPI’s Heidi Shierholz notes that “the wages of typical workers in leisure and hospitality plummeted in the recession and have largely just regained their pre-COVID trend—i.e. they are now in the ballpark of where they’d be if COVID had never happened.” Josh Bivens had previously argued that rising wages in restaurants are consistent with the return of tipping customers, and may therefore not even represent higher wages being paid by employers.
There’s a long way to go, and too many people are still without jobs—remember that 7.6 million jobs are missing just from what existed in February 2020—as Republican governors make the political, not economic, decision to cut off the $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits supplement because supposedly that $300 is what’s keeping people from looking for work (even though it’s not). That’s increasing the suffering across the country even as people show, month by month, that they are looking to get back to work.