UPDATED: July 5, 2021

Breaking down the monthly BLS job report

The White House Council of Economic Advisers said the June report had the "fastest monthly job growth since August of last summer."

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
  • June 2021
    5.9% unemployment rate
    850,000 jobs gained

    Total nonfarm payroll rose by 850,000 jobs in June, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, which the White House Council of Economic Advisers called the “fastest monthly job growth since August of last summer.” The unemployment rate hit 5.9%.

    Leisure and hospitality led the way in gains, particularly food services and drinking places, though the sector remained down 2.2 million jobs from its level in February 2020. Still, restaurants have been vocal about their struggles finding workers as the U.S. reopens due to coronavirus vaccines.

    Wages inched up 10 cents. “The data for recent months suggest that the rising demand for labor associated with the recovery from the pandemic may have put upward pressure on wages,” BLS said in its report, though it notes real analysis on this aspect is complicated by variations across industries.

    “Salary expectations have changed as a result of the pandemic and employers will need to look closely at market intelligence and data around compensation in their industries to ensure they are offering salaries that are competitive in today’s labor market,” Michael Smith, global CEO of Randstad Sourceright, said in a statement.

    Released July 3, 2021

  • May 2021
    5.8% unemployment rate
    559,000 jobs gained

    Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 559,000 jobs in May, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said. While that number comes in below economist expectations, it missed the mark by a smaller margin compared to the numbers from April, analysis from MRINetwork, a talent recruiting company, said. The unemployment rate dropped to 5.8%.

    Leisure and hospitality alone gained 292,000 jobs in response to pandemic restrictions easing. Notably, wages continue to rise. “The data for the last 2 months suggest that the rising demand for labor associated with the recovery from the pandemic may have put upward pressure on wages,” BLS said.

    Employers may be leaning hard on benefits and safety to keep up with competition in the market, Karen Fichuk, CEO of Randstad North America, said in a statement. “As a result, employers are adjusting policies and benefit programs to more effectively attract and retain frontline workers and meet the needs of a more geographically distributed workforce that prioritizes work-life balance and flexibility.”

    Released June 4, 2021

  • April 2021
    6.1% unemployment rate
    266,000 jobs added

    Total nonfarm payroll rose by 266,000 jobs in April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, missing economist expectations by a wide margin. Economists largely predicted gains around 1 million, various media reports showed. The unemployment rate hovered at 6.1%.

    "Notable gains" in leisure and hospitality as well as education were balanced by losses in "temporary help services" and courier jobs, BLS said. Various factors, including difficulties finding child care, could be hampering job creation, sources told The New Yorker, a notion shared by various experts. New unemployment benefits could also be impacting results, The Hill noted.

    "Even as women and minorities continue to face challenges re-entering the workforce, many companies are mired in a fierce competition for certain talent – particularly IT – as geography becomes less of a deciding factor in recruitment strategies," Karen Fichuk, CEO, Randstad North America, said in a statement. "Skilling programs targeted to women and minorities remain essential to helping displaced workers qualify for new and in-demand roles."

    Released May 7, 2021

  • March 2021
    6.0% unemployment rate
    916,000 jobs added

    Total payroll jobs rose by 916,000 in March, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced, beating economist expectations by more than 300,000, according to Bloomberg. Unemployment fell to 6%.

    Gains were largely driven by improvements in coronavirus vaccine distribution as well as loosened restrictions on businesses after long periods of lockdown, Michael Smith, global CEO of Randstad Sourceright, said in an email statement. Hospitality saw notable job gains, for example.

    The U.S. is still down 8.4 million jobs from pre-pandemic levels, however, according to a blog post from the U.S. Department of Labor. Additionally, unemployment remains unequal; the unemployment rate rose to 6% for Asians in March, according to BLS, and while the unemployment rate for Black workers dropped to 9.6% in March, it is still the highest unemployment rate of any racial category.

    Released April 2, 2021

  • Feb. 2021
    6.2% unemployment rate
    379,000 jobs added

    Total payroll employment rose by 379,000 jobs in February, marking the strongest month of growth since September 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The unemployment rate dropped very slightly to 6.2%.

    Most of the gains were in leisure and hospitality, BLS said, reflecting how some states and jurisdictions are opening up as COVID-19 vaccines become more accessible. The big vaccine push and drop in virus cases, generally, has eased some pressure on the economy, according to various media reports.

    “These jobs will last if the pandemic subsides and consumers feel safe returning to businesses,” Andrew Challenger, SVP of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a statement emailed to HR Dive.

    Economists remain cautiously optimistic of the current trend.

    “We are still 11.9 million jobs short of trend,” Jason Furman, a professor of practice at Harvard University and a former Obama economics adviser, said in a tweet. “February was OK but at that pace would take 4 ½ years to recover.”

    Released March 5, 2020

  • Jan. 2021
    6.3% unemployment rate
    49,000 jobs added

    Payroll employment “changed little” in January, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, with only 49,000 jobs added. Unemployment dropped 0.4 percentage points to 6.3% and unemployed persons fell to 10.1 million, and while "both measures are much lower than their April 2020 highs, they remain well above their pre-pandemic levels in February 2020."

    Notably, the labor force participation rate also remains below pre-pandemic levels, signaling that some of the unemployment rate’s drop could be due to people leaving the workforce entirely, according to BLS and various media reports.

    While the report showed minor signs of continued recovery, it "is very clear our economy is still in trouble," President Joe Biden said in remarks from the White House. "A once-in-a-century virus has decimated our economy, and it’s still wreaking havoc on our economy today."

    Released Feb. 5, 2021