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The latest employment figures come as Democrats in Congress and the White House try to reach agreement on another round of coronavirus relief.
The state and local government education sector lost about 280,000 jobs in September, while overall Labor Department figures released Friday showed there were signs that the nation’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic was slowing down.
Total non-farm payrolls rose by 661,000 in September and the unemployment rate fell by about a half a percentage point to 7.9%. This improvement was weaker compared to prior months—in June the economy added 4.8 million jobs, in August 1.5 million.
“At this pace of slowing job growth, it will take years to return to the pre-pandemic labor market,” Elise Gould, senior economist at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, warned in an analysis.
Gould pointed out that the economy is still down 10.7 million jobs from where it was in February, the month before the pandemic hit the U.S. in full force, and that long-term unemployment, where people are out of work for 27 weeks or more, is on the rise.
Robert Dye, chief economist with Comerica Bank, wrote that, under normal conditions, the 661,000 figure would be "hugely positive," but that under the current circumstances it was short of expectations and marks a third consecutive month of softening job growth.
"The still-strong gain in September comes on the heels of a new wave of layoff announcements from marquis companies, including Disney and American Airlines," he also noted.
In Washington, D.C. this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were making a last ditch attempt to reach a compromise ahead of the November election on another large, federal coronavirus aid package.
On Thursday, Pelosi voiced some optimism about the negotiations, but also told reporters the two sides were still far apart from a compromise on certain issues, including aid to state and local governments. House Democrats on Thursday night passed their own $2.2 trillion package. Senate Republicans have said they won’t support a measure that costs more than $2 trillion.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the revelation on Thursday night that President Trump had tested positive for Covid-19, the illness the virus causes, could affect those talks.
Compared to August, employment in local government education fell by 231,000 and state government education by 49,000, the Labor Department estimates show. Outside of education, local governments posted gains of 96,400 jobs and states added just 800 positions.
After weighing job gains and losses, the public sector overall lost about 216,000 jobs in September, but a decrease of about 34,000 workers at the federal level was driven by a decline in temporary census workers.
Setting the federal changes aside, state and local governments were down about 182,000 jobs in September, after taking both gains and losses into consideration.
The Labor Department’s estimates show that, using seasonally adjusted figures, state and local governments are down by roughly 1.2 million jobs compared to February.
Supplemental survey data included in Friday’s report shows telework declined somewhat in September. The data show that 22.7% of people who were working tele-worked at some point because of the pandemic, down from 24.3% in August.
About 19 million people did not work at all, or worked fewer hours in September, because their employer had closed or lost business due to the pandemic, the survey findings also show. That statistic marks a decrease from around 24 million in August.
Bill Lucia is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.
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