The United States labor force saw one of its biggest gains in almost a year last month, as the economy continues its unprecedented rebound amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 850,000 in June — the largest monthly increase since last August. That exceeded expectations from economists, who had predicted an increase of 720,000.
Though the unemployment rate remains unchanged at 5.9%, notable gains were seen in service industries such as leisure and hospitality, retail trade, business services and public and private education — all areas that saw the biggest job losses during the pandemic, which limited face-to-face professional interactions.
The retail industry, in particular, added 67,000 workers in June, with the largest job growth coming from clothing and clothing accessories stores (28,000), followed by general merchandise stores (25,000) and miscellaneous store retailers (13,000). However, employment in the retail sector is still down by 303,000, or 1.9%, compared with February 2020, before the COVID-19 virus took hold in the U.S.
Many retailers continue to report difficulties in recruiting and retaining employees, challenges that have been exacerbated by fears of contracting COVID-19, as well as limited child care options and additional jobless checks from the federal government. Experts predict more workers will likely reenter the marketplace once those unemployment benefits expire in September.
The U.S. job market has been on the upswing since the start of this year, as the vaccine rollout continues across the country and states and cities begin to loosen their pandemic restrictions. And despite some resurgence in case numbers due to a new virus variant, the American economy is rebounding faster than experts had predicted.
In early June, the National Retail Federation changed its forecast for retail sales in 2021, estimating that spending would be even more robust than anticipated. The organization now predicts sales to grow between 10.5% and 13.5% over 2020, for a total of $4.44 trillion to $4.56 trillion. That compares with its initial forecast released in February of 6.5% to 8.2% growth and a total of $4.33 trillion to $4.4 trillion.
NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement this week, “Our initial forecast was made when there was still great uncertainty about consumer spending, vaccine distribution, virus infection rates and additional fiscal stimulus. Since then, we have seen spending grow, vaccines have become available to virtually anyone who wants one, infections have fallen and additional stimulus in the form of the American Rescue Plan has been signed into law.”