Jobless rate falls in February, 654K jobs are added
People line up outside the Utah Department of Workforce Services in Salt Lake City last year. Rick Bowmer/AP

WASHINGTON—The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 3.8% in February, just about matching the figure it reached before the March 2020 pandemic-caused crash, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Businesses claimed to create 654,000 new jobs, while governments added 24,000, 60% of them in local schools, a separate BLS survey showed.

“Two years since the pre-pandemic business cycle peak, the labor market continues its strong and speedy recovery,” Economic Policy Institute Senior Analyst Elise Gould tweeted.

“Significant gains in employment” and the declining joblessness are both “falling for the ‘right’ reasons as more workers return to the labor market,” she added.

The number of jobless declined by 243,000 in one month, to 6.27 million, BLS said. In February 2021, amid the depths of coronavirus-caused closures which idled almost half the economy in an effort to prevent “community spread” of the modern-day plague, 9.992 million people were officially unemployed.

And 18.593 million people were getting jobless checks in mid-February 2021, the BLS weekly jobless claims report, released the day before, showed. The comparable figure for mid-February this year was 1.971 million, down 89%.

“Unlike in the aftermath of the Great Recession, policymakers provided relief at the scale of the problem and did what was needed to spur a strong recovery this time around,” Gould added. After that financier-caused crash in 2007, joblessness took 75 months to return to its prior low. This time, it’s taken 21 months.

Left unsaid: Labor argued long, hard, and unsuccessfully then to double the $787 billion in relief the government eventually provided 14 years ago. And a larger share of it then—thanks to “compromises” forced to negate Republican opposition—was tax breaks for businesses, not checks for workers. This time, workers got a bigger share from Democratic President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Act, which congressional Republicans also fought.

Jobless rates dropped 0.5%, seasonally adjusted, for Hispanic-named workers, to 4.4%, and for Asians, to 3.1%, BLS said. Black joblessness declined 0.3%, to 6.6. But the biggest jobless decline was among the least-educated workers, those with less than a high school diploma. Their jobless rate in February, 4.3%, was down from January’s 6.3% figure.

There were two “negative” numbers in the BLS report. Year-over-year, wages rose 5.1%, it said. That’s less than year-over-year inflation. And the percentage of long-term jobless—those out more than 26 weeks, who’ve lost jobless benefits—rose 0.8%, to 26.7%.

Factories claimed to add 36,000 jobs in February, the separate survey of firms showed, rising to 12.607 million. They still lag the last pre-crash figure two years ago, by 1.78 million. Almost a third, 11,000, of the overall factory gains, was in fabricated metal products, like steel.

Construction firms claimed to add 60,000 jobs in February, to 7.613 million. More than 70% were at specialty trade contractors. Service firms claimed to add 549,000 jobs, with the biggest hikes in low-paying areas: Bars and restaurants (+123,700 jobs), health care (+63,500), retail trade (+36,700), temps (+35,500), and social assistance (+30,700).


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.