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UPDATED: Jan. 11, 2021

Breaking down the monthly BLS job report

A downbeat December may be just the start of further losses, experts said, as the pandemic continues and employers wait for the vaccine to roll out.

Below are the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports on “The Employment Situation” — the bureau’s term for the monthly jobs report.

Each report provides data on the month prior (September’s report covers August numbers, for example), and numbers are regularly adjusted in future reports. Unadjusted numbers are noted in the text.

Unemployment rate
Percentage of workers who are jobless despite “ability” to work. Latest numbers are unadjusted.
Kathryn Moody/HR Dive, data from BLS
Jobs added
Total of non-farm jobs added to the U.S. market. Latest numbers are unadjusted.
Kathryn Moody/HR Dive, data from BLS
  • Dec. 2020
    6.7% unemployment rate
    140,000 jobs lost

    Total payroll employment declined by 140,000 jobs in December 2020, the first net decrease recorded since April 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced. Unemployment remained at 6.7%.

    AP called the job market "sharply uneven," with most losses – driven by an increase in COVID-19 cases – concentrated in restaurants, hotels and venues; restaurants alone shed 372,000 jobs. And it could get worse, experts said, as the pandemic continues and employers wait for the vaccine to roll out.

    "The job-letting will not end before the pandemic," Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., said in a statement. "In fact, we likely will not see the full ramifications of this downturn until years after the pandemic ends, when we get a better picture of just how many jobs were wiped out completely during this period."

    Karen Fichuk, CEO, Randstad North America and Randstad N.V. executive board member, noted in a statement that uncertainty around vaccine distribution may "decreas[e] consumer spending and, in turn, tak[e] an additional toll on the labor market."

    Released Jan. 8, 2021

  • November 2020
    6.7% unemployment rate
    245,000 jobs gained

    Payroll employment rose by 245,000 jobs in November, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported, far below economists' expectations – a sign that recovery has slowed in the wake of rising coronavirus cases. General improvement "has moderated in recent months," BLS said.

    While the unemployment rate dropped to 6.7%, that may have been from workers abandoning the job hunt; the labor force participation rate is 1.9 percentage points below February’s level, BLS said. Long-term unemployment – those out of work for 27 weeks or more – also rose by 385,000, which could signal that once-temporary unemployment is becoming permanent for some workers, The New York Times reported.

    Various forms of government relief, including expanded unemployment insurance benefits, will sunset by the end of the month if Congress does not pass further COVID-19 relief.

    Released Dec. 4, 2020

  • October 2020
    6.9% unemployment rate
    638,000 jobs added

    Job recovery continued in October, with 638,000 payroll jobs added, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The unemployment rate declined to 6.9%.

    Optimism regarding continued growth is cautious, however; despite gains, employment remains 10 million jobs below its February level, BLS said, and long-term unemployment continues to climb. Support for workers from Congress may continue to be delayed, as well, in the wake of the election. Democrat and former Vice President Joe Biden was declared president-elect Nov. 7, though the Senate will likely retain a Republican majority, AP reported, meaning aid may be postponed until 2021. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, one of several bills to support workers in the wake of the pandemic, will sunset Dec. 31, 2020.

    Women, in particular, may be feeling the effects of the economic downturn, Rebecca Henderson, CEO of Randstad Global Businesses, said in a statement: “It is imperative that the next administration support women who are being forced to choose between their careers and caring for their children as the loss of women from the labor force could have a $1 trillion impact on the global economy.”

    Released Nov. 6, 2020

  • September 2020
    7.9% unemployment rate
    672,000 jobs added

    Payroll employment rose by 672,000 in September, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, falling short of economists’ predictions, various sources said. The unemployment rate declined to 7.9%; "notable gains" occurred in retail, hospitality and healthcare.

    The Economic Policy Institute called the increase a "notable slowdown" in the recovery of jobs lost during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, following the 1,489,000 jobs gained in August after seasonal adjustments. The report also does not account for the large layoff news across various industries this past week; Disney laid off 28,000 workers from its various U.S. parks, CNBC reported, while airlines may layoff upwards of 30,000 workers if federal aid legislation does not pass.

    Andy Van Kleunen, CEO of National Skills Coalition, called the ongoing recession "the most unequal in modern American history."

    “The marginal reductions in unemployment have been seen by mostly white workers – the unemployment rate remains in double digits for African Americans and Latinos compared to 7 percent for white workers,” Kleunen said in a statement. “There are fewer workers participating in the labor market today than just last month. In short, people are still hurting.”

    Released Oct. 2, 2020

  • August 2020
    8.4% unemployment rate
    1.4 million jobs added

    The labor market continued its slow improvement as the unemployment rate dropped to 8.4% in August 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics -- the first time the statistic hit single digits since March. Total payroll employment grew by 1.4 million; retail trade and leisure and hospitality gained jobs, the report noted, as the market "reflect[ed] the continued resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and efforts to contain it."

    "The August job gains are a positive sign," Rebecca Henderson, CEO of Randstad Global Business, said in a statement. "However, the service sector will need to be prepared for a potential second wave of the virus that could coincide with the holiday season."

    Becky Frankiewicz, President of ManpowerGroup North America, agreed, noting that “we have a long way to go but these are really encouraging signs.”

    Released Sept. 4, 2020

  • July 2020
    10.2% unemployment rate
    1.8 million jobs added

    Payroll employment grew by 1.8 million jobs in July, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, representing slowed but continued improvement.

    Notable job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality, government, retail trade, professional and business services, other services and healthcare, BLS said, with leisure and hospitality accounting for more than a third of jobs added. Construction remained steady while mining continued to shed jobs, the agency said.

    Released Aug. 7, 2020

  • June 2020
    11.1% unemployment rate
    4.8 million jobs added

    Payroll employment grew by 4.8 million jobs in June, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported — representing continued improvement from May, after an April report which had the largest job loss numbers since the Great Depression. Unemployment improved to 11.1%, a decrease of 2.2 percent since the last report.

    BLS highlighted sharp increases in leisure and hospitality employment and also called out "notable job gains" in "retail trade, education and health services, other services, manufacturing, and professional and business services." Professional and business services added 306,000 jobs in June, and is now 1.8 million new jobs away from its February level.

    Economists are warning that even though these figures are improving, economic recovery will still need time. "With the spread of the virus accelerating again, we expect the recovery from here will be a lot bumpier and job gains to be more muted," Michael Pearce, senior US economist at Capital Economics, told CNN.

    Released July 2, 2020