Just 266,000 nonfarm payroll jobs were added to the U.S. labor market in April, according to the Department of Labor monthly jobs report released Friday. That number is far below the estimated 1 million new jobs projected by Dow Jones, surprising economists and analysts who expected a healthy number of gains as more Americans get vaccinated and businesses reopen during the ongoing pandemic.
By comparison, the labor market added 770,000 jobs in March and 536,000 jobs in February.
“Today’s report was an enormous surprise and shows the labor market hit a hidden pothole in April,” Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao tells CNBC Make It. “Clearly, the labor market has decelerated quite a bit.”
The 6.1% unemployment rate and 9.8 million people unemployed remained steady in April compared with the months prior. Economists say today’s snapshot is much better than exactly a year ago, but improvements are leveling off while rates of joblessness remain well above pre-pandemic levels.
Some of the biggest gains in jobs occurred in the leisure and hospitality industry, which added 331,000 new jobs in April. Hiring happened across restaurants and bars; gambling and recreation; and accommodation.
Gains also happened across local government education, as schools reopened and rehired teachers as well as office administration and support roles. The social assistance industry saw a boost in child care services jobs, as facilities nationwide welcomed kids back in-person.
The financial industry saw jobs increase across real estate and rental leasing; in “other services,” workers filled roles in maintenance repair and laundry services.
Gains elsewhere in the labor market did little to offset major losses. The worst performing industries for the month include temporary help services jobs, which lost 111,400 positions last month. This could indicate that staffing firms are having trouble finding businesses that want to hire temporary workers, Zhao says, which could be an indicator of labor shortages or that workers are holding out for permanent jobs during the market recovery.
Transportation and warehousing, which remained strong during market upheavals last spring to keep pace with skyrocketing e-commerce demand, shed 74,100 workers in April, most being couriers and messengers. Zhao says any patterns here remain unclear but may be an early sign that consumers are going back to the store and relying less on online shopping and delivery.
Improvements in the labor market aren’t helping everyone equally.
More women left the labor force than joined it in April, for the first time since January. About 165,000 women weren’t working or looking for work last month, compared with 355,000 men who joined the workforce. Experts say this points to continued challenges for women, who disproportionately take on care-giving responsibilities, in finding stable and accessible child care in order for them to return to work.
The unemployment rate for Black workers rose slightly and at 9.7% is the highest among any racial group, compared with 7.9% for Latinos, 5.7% for Asians and 5.3% for