As companies take time today to recognize their staffs on Employee Appreciation Day, the Labor Department has provided another indicator that business leaders realize the value of workers — by hiring them.
For the month of February, United States employers added 379,000 jobs, blowing past the predictions of economic experts, who had forecast an increase of 200,000 jobs.
Most of the gains during the month came from increased hiring in the hospitality and leisure sectors, as many states continued to roll back COVID-19 health restrictions that raised occupancy rates for hotels and restaurants, and allowed for the return of sporting events and other entertainment.
The U.S. also saw smaller gains in the health care, temporary help and manufacturing sectors, as well as in retail trade, which added 41,000 jobs. In keeping with previous trends, general merchandise stores recorded the largest increase among retailers (up by 14,000). Clothing and accessories stores, meanwhile, continued to suffer from softness in their businesses, shedding 20,000 jobs during February.
Despite the increased hiring, the U.S. unemployment rate remained unchanged, holding steady at 6.2%, with 10 million Americans still out of work. Those figures represent a significant decline from April 2020, when unemployment peaked at 14.7%; however, they are still well above pre-pandemic levels (in February 2020, the rate was 3.5%).
In recent weeks, experts have issued upbeat predictions for an economic recovery in the U.S., as more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19. Last month, the National Retail Federation forecast that the retail industry could have one of its best years in 2021, with retail sales expected to grow between 6.5% and 8.2% to more than $4.33 trillion.
However, if the February job numbers are any indication, the improvements in business so far are not benefiting every community equally, as minorities continue to have higher rates of unemployment compared with white workers.
According to the Labor Department, the jobless rate for Black and Hispanic workers was largely unchanged in February, remaining disproportionately higher, at 9.9% and 9.5%, respectively. Unemployment among Asian Americans declined to 5.1 percent last month, while the rate for white workers held steady at 5.6%.
And while the jobless rate for women did see encouraging improvement, falling to 5.9% — the first time it has been lower than the rate for men since the start of the pandemic — Black women actually lost ground in February, as unemployment among that group increased to 8.9%, from 8.5% in January 2021.
Meanwhile, the jobless rate for white women was 5.2% in February and 8.5% for Hispanic and Latino women.