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Hiring Slowed In August With The Surge In Coronavirus Cases


The U.S. labor market is facing a sharp downturn heading into Labor Day weekend. U.S. employers added just 235,000 jobs in August. That's a huge drop from the month before when payrolls grew by more than a million jobs. Much of the slowdown was in restaurants and retail shops where business suffered during a surge in the new COVID-19 delta variant. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now.

And Scott, how big of a drag on the job market is this latest wave of infections?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: It's a big drag, Ari. Forecasters expected to see some slowdown after those huge job gains in June and July, but the August number was quite a bit worse than expected. Speaking at the White House this morning, President Biden said the jump in infections tied to the delta variant has got people nervous about eating out and going shopping. And that's taking a toll on the job market.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Too many have not gotten vaccinated. And it's creating a lot of unease in our economy and around our kitchen tables.

HORSLEY: Biden says he plans to announce additional steps to address the pandemic next week. Vaccination rates have been inching up. And a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds resistance to the vaccine has come down over the last month. That's encouraging because, ultimately, the only way to have a really robust economy and put more people back to work is to get control over this pandemic.

SHAPIRO: Well, how are other parts of the economy doing?

HORSLEY: You know, there are some industries that are less sensitive to the ups and downs of the pandemic than, say, restaurants. Manufacturing, for example, has held up quite well. Factories added 37,000 jobs last month, up from 27,000 in July. Warehouses and delivery services are also adding workers month after month because a lot of people are still shopping online. There is still a record number of job openings in the U.S., but it's taking a long time to fill a lot of those jobs. We've said for a while now fear of the virus is likely keeping some people from looking for work. And of course, the delta variant doesn't help with that.

SHAPIRO: And so where are we in the overall recovery on jobs?

HORSLEY: So far, the U.S. has replaced about three-quarters of the jobs that were lost during the early months of the pandemic. That's one reason this slowdown is concerning. In ordinary times, adding 235,000 jobs would be a pretty good month. But the economy is still down more than 5 million jobs. And to make that up quickly, you would like to see more months like June and July, when we were adding 900,000 or a million jobs. At the August pace, it would take almost two more years to get back to full employment. Keep in mind, too, there are millions of Americans who are out of work who are about to lose their pandemic unemployment benefits. Those supplemental benefits have already expired in about half the states, and they're set to run out in the remaining states this coming week.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Scott Horsley, thanks a lot.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.