UPDATED: Jan. 10, 2022

Breaking down the monthly BLS job report

The unemployment rate in December dropped to 3.9% – the first time the rate fell below 4% since February 2020.

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. 2021
    3.9% unemployment rate
    199,000 jobs gained

    Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 199,000 in December, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced. While the job gains were slower than expected, the unemployment rate dropped to 3.9% – the first time the rate fell below 4% since February 2020.

    Wages continued to rise, hitting a 4.7% difference year-over-year, as employers fight to keep talent onboard. And while the December report’s data is before the omicron variant became widespread, jobless claims remain low, The Wall Street Journal reported.

    Released Jan. 7, 2022

  • Nov. 2021
    4.2% unemployment rate
    210,000 jobs added

    Total nonfarm payroll rose by 210,000 in November and the unemployment rate dropped to 4.2%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agency recorded particular job gains in the professional and business services; transportation and warehousing; construction; and manufacturing sectors, while employment in retail declined.

    After October's numbers beat analyst expectations, Friday's report divided analysts. While November's figures aligned with the typical seasonal lull between Thanksgiving and Jan. 1, labor shortages, supply chain issues and inflation continued to complicate economic recovery, Andrew Hunter, co-founder and economist at job search company Adzuna, said in an email. Hunter added that the emergence of the omicron variant could cause some workers to stay on the sidelines, but its impact may not be overly negative.

    "Despite worries about Omicron, I don’t anticipate a major, lasting economic slowdown, and I’m feeling positive about U.S. jobs growth," Hunter said.

    In a series of Dec. 3 tweets, Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at consulting firm RSM US, wrote that the Friday release was "a tale of two reports," though he noted that BLS’ household estimate, which showed declining unemployment figures, "is closer to the truth around what is happening in the jobs market." He said he anticipates "a significant upward revision to the November data next month."

    "Today’s numbers suggest a cautious step in the right direction towards labor market recovery, as businesses across industries compete for talent in a tight market," Mike Smith, global CEO at Randstad Sourceright, said in an email. "Meanwhile, employers need to continue to be laser-focused on retention, as well as recruitment, given American workers are resigning at record rates."

    Released Dec. 3, 2021

  • Oct. 2021
    4.6% unemployment rate
    531,000 jobs added

    Total nonfarm payroll rose by 531,000 in October and the unemployment rate dropped to 4.6%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report beat economist expectations, with particular gains in leisure and hospitality, manufacturing and transportation and warehousing, BLS reported.

    Coronavirus-related statistics are also trending down; 3.8 million people said in October they couldn’t work or lost hours due to the pandemic, compared to 5 million in September.

    “Getting shots in arms and relief to families has allowed many more Americans to return to work and made our economy more resilient to issues like the Delta variant,” Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said in a statement.

    Experts noted that the report pointed toward continued healing of the economy.

    “This morning’s numbers represent the beginning of a reconciliation between American companies and American workers,” Becky Frankiewicz, president of ManpowerGroup North America, said in a statement, but she added that participation still lags and that more needs to be done to bring workers back into the fold. While gains in hospitality are good signs, attracting IT and tech roles, in particular, needs to be a top priority, she added.

    Released Nov. 5, 2021

  • 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