US employers add weak 194,000 jobs in September as COVID-19 maintains hold

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WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — America’s employers added 194,000 jobs in September, the second month of a relatively weak gain and evidence that the pandemic still has a grip on the economy with many companies struggling to fill millions of open jobs.

However, the overall unemployment rate fell to 4.8% from 5.2%.

The report, issued by the Department of Labor on Friday, showed that while the economy is showing signs of emerging from the drag of the delta variant, worker shortages still plague employers and supply chain issues cripple businesses.

New COVID-19 infections remained high as September began. While restaurant traffic began to pick up and consumers continued to spend, employers are still struggling to find workers because many people who lost jobs in the pandemic have yet to start looking again. Supply chain bottlenecks have also worsened, slowing factories, restraining homebuilders and emptying some store shelves.

Many economists still think that most of the roughly 3 million people who lost jobs and stopped looking for work since the pandemic struck will resume their searches as COVID wanes. It took years after the 2008-2009 recession, they note, for the proportion of people working or seeking work to return to pre-recession levels. The government doesn’t count people as unemployed unless they’re actively looking for jobs.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits decreased last week to 326,000, another sign that the U.S. job market and economy continue their steady recovery from last year’s coronavirus recession. However, this was the first time in four weeks that jobless claims dropped.

Several enhanced unemployment benefits ended in early September, including a $300-a-week federal supplement as well as programs that, for the first time, covered gig workers and people who were jobless for six months or more. So far, the ending of those programs appears to have had only a small effect on the number of people seeking work.

Governors in about 25 states ended the $300 benefit before the nationwide expiration in September. Research by economists at Goldman Sachs found that unemployed people who were looking for work were much more likely to take jobs when their benefits ended. But the early cut-offs did not cause people on the sidelines to start searching again, Goldman concluded.

In the meantime, fear of COVID continues to keep some would-be job seekers on the sidelines, notably those who previously worked in public-facing service jobs at restaurants, bars, hotels and retailers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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