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UPDATED: Sept. 8, 2020

Breaking down the monthly BLS job report

Unemployment rate dropped to 8.4% in August 2020, the first time the statistic hit single digits since March.

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
  • August 2020
    3.6% unemployment rate
    225,000 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

  • May 2020
    13.3% unemployment rate
    2.5 million jobs added

    Payroll employment grew by 2.5 million jobs in May, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported — an improvement from April, which had the largest job loss numbers since the Great Depression, according to numerous sources. Unemployment improved to 13.3%, a decrease of 1.4 percent since the last report.

    Unemployment rates declined in all major industry sectors, a result of "limited resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed in March and April due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and efforts to contain it," according to the report.

    The report also noted that part-time employment has increased, while the figures for long-term unemployment are still growing. The number of unemployed people who have been jobless for 5-14 weeks went up 41 percent, which the report says accounts for "about 70.8 percent" of the unemployed.

    The Washington Post pointed out a special note in the jobs report that disclosed a "misclassification error" which implies "that the unemployment rate likely should be higher than the widely reported 13.3 percent rate." BLS noted that the problem started in March, affecting April's numbers as well. Without the error, BLS estimates the unemployment rate would be about three percentage points higher.

    Released June 5, 2020

  • April 2020
    14.7% unemployment rate
    20.5 million jobs lost

    Payroll employment fell by 20.5 million jobs in April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported — a toll not seen since the Great Depression, according to numerous sources. Unemployment rose to 14.7%, up by 10.3 percentage points since the last report, the largest over-the-month increase in the history of the series, BLS said.

    "Employment fell sharply in all major industry sectors, with particularly heavy job losses in leisure and hospitality," according to the report, due to the widespread impact of the stay-at-home orders put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The report may even understate the damage, The New York Times said, as the BLS report defines an unemployed worker as one who is actively looking for work and does not count workers who have had their hours cut or pay slashed.

    Wages actually increased slightly, the report noted. However, because so many lower-income jobs were cut, the average has actually skewed upward thanks to more higher-income workers largely maintaining their jobs, The Washington Post reported.

    Released May 8, 2020

  • March 2020
    4.4% unemployment rate
    701,000 jobs lost

    Employment in March 2020 fell by 701,000 jobs and the unemployment rate rose to 4.4%, reflecting “the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and efforts to contain it,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    Notably, the survey period for this report ended March 12, before many states enacted stay-at-home orders that prompted the closure of various businesses — and still the drops are worse than economists expected, according to various media reports.

    This job report, while staggering, may lag behind the weekly reporting of unemployment claims from the U.S. Department of Labor, analysts said. Workers filed 6.6 million unemployment claims the week ending March 28, and the week prior contained more than 3 million new unemployment claims.

    The new Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, made more workers eligible for unemployment claims, analysis from the Washington Post noted, which may contribute to some of the rising numbers. Regardless, numbers will likely continue to look worse as the pandemic rages on.

    Released April 3, 2020

  • February 2020
    3.5% unemployment rate
    273,000 jobs added

    February 2020 added 273,000 jobs to the market, nearly 100,000 more than economists expected, Axios said in its report. The strong showing dropped the unemployment rate back down to 3.5%.

    This optimistic report may be the “calm before the storm,” the Economic Policy Institute said in its take on the update. The impact of novel coronavirus may be acutely seen in next month’s report, various media outlets noted; the virus’s emergence could be “the catalyst that could interrupt the longest economic expansion on record,” Reuters said.

    Some employers have already felt the coming crunch. United Airlines announced it is freezing hiring through June, The New York Times reported, and manufacturing is expected to be hard hit.

    Released March 6, 2020