Job Growth Continues to Trounce Estimates — Could the Coronavirus Change That?

The labor market last month showed signs of strength, but investors are worried that February’s jobs report doesn’t fully reflect the impact of the deadly coronavirus outbreak on the economy.

Markets opened sharply lower in Friday morning trading after the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employers added 273,000 jobs in February — the same as in January and trouncing economists’ job growth expectations of 175,000 — with the unemployment rate dipping back to its 50-year low of 3.5%. The report did not take into account the threat of the spreading illness, which has now infected more than 100,000 worldwide and led to 3,400 deaths.

What’s more, the coronavirus is anticipated to hit sectors including transportation and warehousing, education and health services, leisure and hospitality as well as retail trade. Last month, retailers lost 7,000 jobs.

Companies in the United States were surveyed about their workforce before the coronavirus became a heightened concern in the country. As of this morning, the death toll as a result of the illness climbed to 14, with more than 225 confirmed cases of sick people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has encouraged employers to make short- and long-term plans in the event of a widespread outbreak.

Many of the country’s biggest companies, including e-tail behemoth Amazon, have taken measures to reduce the potential for exposure among their workers, such as requesting their employees to either cancel or postpone noncritical business travel. Trade organizations including the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America and the American Apparel and Footwear Association have also advised members to sequester themselves or conduct business remotely from their own homes as a precaution if they have traveled to any of the hot spots or have been exposed to the coronavirus.

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