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American Labor Force Still Struggles to Recover From Coronavirus Losses

The United States economy is still trying to recover from a massive dent to its labor force caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, American employers added nearly 1.8 million jobs last month despite a spike in COVID-19 cases across the country and renewed restrictions that led businesses to shut down once again. The figure, however, was well below the 4.8 million increase in jobs in June.

What’s more, the unemployment rate fell to 10.2% but remains above the high of 10% that was reached during the Great Recession in October 2009.

“These improvements in the labor market reflected the continued resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it,” wrote the agency.

In the hard-hit retail sector, employers added 258,300 jobs. (Employment in the industry is 913,000 lower than in February, just before the COVID-19 outbreak touched down in the U.S.) In July, nearly half of job gains in the industry occurred in clothing and clothing accessories stores — an improvement of 120,800 — while the component of general merchandise stores that includes warehouse clubs and supercenters lost 64,000 jobs. On the other hand, department stores saw 45,100 more jobs, miscellaneous store retailers recorded an uptick of 28,200 and non-store retail payrolls increased by 8,900.

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The jobs report came a day after the Labor Department revealed that more than 1.18 million workers filed jobless claims in the week ended Aug. 1. That marked the lowest weekly total since March — when the COVID-19 outbreak forced many businesses and offices across the country to temporarily shut down — and a decrease of 249,000 from the previous week’s revised level.

Yesterday’s data also showed that continuing claims — which paints a broader picture of joblessness in the country and lags jobless data by one week — declined 844,000 to 16.11 million.

In the second quarter, the U.S. gross domestic product dropped at a 32.9% annualized rate in the second quarter — a 9.5% fall from the prior year’s quarter and the steepest in records dating back to 1947. (Before the health crisis pummeled economies around the world, the average U.S. GDP hovered at around 2%.)

Although state and local officials have largely moved forward with their reopening plans, a surge in new COVID-19 infections — particularly in the South, West and parts of the Midwest — have resulted in reinforced restrictions. In certain areas, stores and offices that had just begun to rehire their workers shut down once again, pushing more Americans back to unemployment.

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