UPDATED: Oct. 11, 2021

Breaking down the monthly BLS job report

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
  • Sept. 2021
    4.8% unemployment rate
    194,000 jobs added

    Total nonfarm payroll rose by 194,000 jobs in September, far below analyst expectations, which predicted gains of more than 500,000 jobs. The unemployment rate fell to 4.8%, however — the first time it has dropped below 5% since the pandemic-related recession began.

    In remarks, President Joe Biden said that the snapshot taken by the report was from Sept. 13, a time in which COVID-19 cases were averaging higher compared to today. “Since then, we’ve seen the daily cases fall by more than one-third, and they’re continuing to trend down,” Biden said.

    Becky Frankiewicz, president of ManpowerGroup North America, called the report a “reality check” in emailed remarks, noting that employers may be witnessing a long-term change to the workforce reflecting workers’ new values.

    Other remarks aligned with that point of view. “Today’s job seekers are looking for higher wages and benefits such as improved flexibility and the ability to work from home, as well as for longer-term career growth and purpose,” Mike Smith, global CEO of Randstad Sourceright, said in a statement. “Smart companies will meet those demands.”

    Released Oct. 8, 2021

  • Aug. 2021
    5.2% unemployment rate
    235,000 jobs added

    Total nonfarm payroll rose by 235,000 jobs in August, coming in below economist expectations. The unemployment rate declined slightly to 5.2%.

    The lackluster report reflected the ongoing impact of the delta variant, which has forced some employers to push pause on hiring, Appcast Lead Labor Economist Andrew Flowers said in an emailed statement. Leisure and hospitality jobs — which largely require in-person presence — stalled out in August after months of strong growth.

    However, a decreased unemployment rate shows that job seekers are still entering the market and successfully landing jobs, Flowers said. But women continue to bear the brunt of economic losses; the female labor force participation rate remained around 56.2% while the male labor force participation rate ticked up slightly to 67.7%.

    Released Sept. 3, 2021

  • July 2021
    5.4% unemployment rate
    943,000 jobs added

    Total nonfarm payroll rose by 943,000 in July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest monthly increase recorded since August 2020. The unemployment rate fell to 5.4%.

    Leisure and hospitality led the way with job gains with 380,000 jobs added. However, the job report snapshot is in the middle of the prior month — before mask mandates returned due to the spread of the delta variant. Reversals could be seen in future data, according to various media reports, particularly if schools close again.

    But while jobs are surging back, it may still be an applicant-friendly market for some time, experts say.

    "This recovery is based not just on what employers want but on how workers feel," said Becky Frankiewicz, ManpowerGroup US president, in an emailed statement. "This great awakening of the American workforce — seeking better work life balance, greater flexibility, higher wages and health and wellbeing as a priority isn’t going away."

    Released Aug. 6, 2021

  • 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