America’s economy continues to rebound from the pandemic, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report. The unemployment rate dropped from 4.6% to 4.2% in November, as the economy added 210,000 new jobs. Here are five more numbers from the November jobs report to keep an eye on.
The labor force participation rate, which measures the share of people who are working or actively looking for work, hasn’t changed much since June 2020. In November, the participation rate edged up to 61.8%. Along with rising total employment and a decreasing unemployment rate, this is a positive indicator for U.S. economic growth.
There are many factors that could reduce labor force participation, including early retirement, childcare obligations, shifting career priorities and the desire for better working conditions. One probable factor affecting the labor force participation rate is the pandemic. In November, 3.6 million people reported that they couldn’t work, or worked fewer hours, due to COVID-19. This pandemic is still impacting our economy, but vaccines and boosters are helping – so follow the CDC recommendations and schedule your shots, folks! – as are policies designed to improve childcare options and working conditions.
We’ve now recovered 83% (18.5 million) of the 22.4 million jobs lost in March and April 2020. Two industries – financial activities, and transportation and warehousing – have fully recovered. There’s more work to do before we achieve a full economic recovery, but this is good, steady progress in the right direction.
Long-term unemployment continues to be a problem for many workers of color. Black people account for 13% of the U.S. population, but make up 23% of workers who have been unemployed for 52 weeks or longer. Economic growth works best when it works for everyone, so it’s important to make sure our policies help all America’s workers return to work.
I’m coming back to it because it’s just so good. The 4.2% unemployment rate shows just how quickly Biden-Harris administration policies are fueling this recovery. After the Great Recession, the unemployment rate took far longer to recover, and for this recession the Congressional Budget Office didn’t expect the rate to get this low until 2024.
In short: The total number of employed people is rising and the unemployment rate is dropping. There’s plenty of room for growth, but we’re on the right track and even ahead of schedule by some measures. As we focus on building back better, our next steps will involve reducing COVID-19 risks, continuing to spur economic growth, and ensuring that all workers – including those who have been traditionally overlooked in previous recoveries – are benefiting from our nation’s economic progress.
Janelle Jones is the chief economist of the U.S. Department of Labor.