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American Employers Added Disappointing 661,000 Jobs Last Month — But Retail Fared Better

The United States labor force is recovering much slower than expected, but workers are returning to retail as states and localities resume business amid the spread of COVID-19.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, American employers added 661,000 jobs in September, while the unemployment rate fell by half a percentage point to 7.9%. It’s the highest the jobless rate has been ahead of a presidential election since the government started tracking the data in 1948. Economists had predicted a gain of 870,000 jobs last month.

Notable gains were recorded in the retail sector, as well as leisure and hospitality, health care and social assistance, plus professional and business services. The industry saw 142,400 jobs over the month, with clothing and accessories stores accounting for 39,800 jobs, general merchandise stores comprising 19,500 jobs, and sporting goods and hobby stores gaining 11,500 jobs. Miscellaneous store retailers and non-store (or online) retailers added a respective 3,400 and 9,300 jobs. Still, however, total employment in retail trade is 483,000 lower than in February.

The stock market was down in premarket trading, but that movement was primarily driven by news that President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID-19. At midnight, the U.S. leader announced on Twitter that the couple “will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately.”

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As of 9:15 a.m. ET, futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average declined more than 460 points, or 1.67%. The S&P 500 was heading for a loss of 56 points, or 1.67%, while the Nasdaq Composite looked to drop 256 points, or 2.21%.

The report comes a day after the Labor Department announced that initial jobless claims for the seven days ended Sept. 26 fell by 36,000 to a seasonally adjusted 837,000. Economists had forecasted 850,000 applications. The number of unemployment Americans has hovered over 800,000 for more than a month and remains seven times higher than it was prior to the pandemic. Since the coronavirus swept the U.S. in March, nearly 62.8 million people lost their jobs and, as a result, sought benefits from the government.

Last night, the House passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill that would reinstate the $600 weekly federal unemployment benefits through January, as well as deliver a second $1,200 check to most Americans. However, the package will likely not pass through the Republican-held Senate.

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