More stories

  • in

    As U.S. Prospects Brighten, Fed’s Powell Sees Risk in Global Vaccination Pace

    Some countries are lagging behind in vaccinations, and policymakers warned that no economy is secure until the world is safe from coronavirus variants.Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, and the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, emphasized the economic need for worldwide vaccinations on Thursday.Pool photo by Stefani ReynoldsJerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, stressed on Thursday that even as economic prospects look brighter in the United States, getting the world vaccinated and controlling the coronavirus pandemic remain critical to the global outlook.“Viruses are no respecters of borders,” Mr. Powell said while speaking on an International Monetary Fund panel. “Until the world, really, is vaccinated, we’re all going to be at risk of new mutations and we won’t be able to really resume activity with confidence all around the world.”While some advanced economies, including the United States, are moving quickly toward widespread vaccination, many emerging market countries lag far behind: Some have administered as little as one dose per 1,000 residents.Mr. Powell joined a chorus of global policy officials in emphasizing how important it is that all nations — not just the richest ones — are able to widely protect against the coronavirus. Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said policymakers needed to remain focused on public health as the key policy priority.“This year, next year, vaccine policy is economic policy,” Ms. Georgieva said, speaking on the same panel as Mr. Powell. “It is even higher priority than the traditional tools of fiscal and monetary policy. Why? Without it we cannot turn the fate of the world economy around.”Still, she also warned against pulling back on monetary policy support prematurely, saying that clear communication from the United States is helpful and important. The Fed is arguably the world’s most critical central bank thanks to the widely used dollar, and unexpected policy changes in the United States can roil global markets and make it harder for less developed economies to recover.“Premature withdrawal of support can cut the recovery short,” she cautioned.The Fed has held interest rates near zero since March 2020 and has been buying about $120 billion in government-backed bonds per month, policies meant to stoke spending by keeping borrowing cheap. Officials have been clear that they will continue to support the economy until it is closer to their goals of maximum employment and stable inflation — and that while the situation is improving, it is not there yet.“There are a number of factors that are coming together to support a brighter outlook for the U.S. economy,” Mr. Powell said, noting that tens of millions of Americans are now fully vaccinated, so the economy should be able to fully reopen fairly soon. “The recovery though, here, remains uneven and incomplete.”Employers added more than 900,000 workers to payrolls last month, but the country is still missing millions of jobs compared with February 2020 and fresh data showed that state jobless claims climbed last week. Mr. Powell pointed out that the burden is falling heavily on those least able to bear it: Lower-income service workers, who are heavily minorities and women, have been hit hard by the job losses.When asked what keeps him awake at night, Mr. Powell said that “there’s a pretty substantial tent city” he drives past on his way home from work in Washington. “We just need to keep reminding ourselves that even though some parts of the economy are just doing great, there’s a very large group of people who are not.”Given the pandemic’s role in exacerbating inequality, both Mr. Powell and Ms. Georgieva said it was critical to support workers and make sure they can find their way into new and fitting jobs.The Fed chair said policy tended to focus too much on short-term, palliative measures and not enough on longer-term solutions that help to expand economic possibility.“I think we need to, really as a country — and I’m not talking about any particular bill — invest in things that will increase the inclusiveness of the economy and the longer-term potential of it,” Mr. Powell said. “Particularly invest in people, so that they can take part in, contribute to and benefit from the prosperity of our economy.”Those comments come as the Biden administration is pushing for an ambitious $2 trillion infrastructure package that would include provisions for labor market training, technological research and widespread broadband. The administration has proposed paying for the package by raising corporate taxes.“For quite some time, we have been in favor of more investment in infrastructure. It helps to boost productivity here in the United States,” Ms. Georgieva said, calling climate-focused and “social infrastructure” provisions positive. She said they had not had a chance to fully assess the plan, but “broadly speaking, yes, we do support it.”But the White House’s plan has already run into resistance from Republicans and some moderate Democrats, who are wary of raising taxes or engaging in another big spending package after several large stimulus bills.Some commentators have warned that besides expanding the nation’s debt load, the government’s virus spending — particularly the recent $1.9 trillion stimulus package — could cause the economy to overheat. Fed officials have been less worried. “There’s a difference between essentially a one-time increase in prices and persistent inflation,” Mr. Powell said on Thursday. “The nature of a bottleneck is that it will be resolved.”If price gains and inflation expectations moved up “materially,” he said, the Fed would react.“We don’t think that’s the most likely outcome,” he said. More

  • in

    New state unemployment claims rose again last week.

    The job market remains challenging, with the government reporting Thursday that initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose last week.A total of 741,000 workers filed first-time claims for state jobless benefits last week, an increase of 18,000, the Labor Department said. It was the second consecutive weekly increase after new claims hit a pandemic low.At the same time, 152,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits. That was a decline of 85,000.Neither figure is seasonally adjusted. Claims rose above one million early in the year but have come down since then, helped by the spread of vaccinations, the easing of restrictions on businesses in many states and the arrival of stimulus funds.Most individuals received payments of $1,400 in recent weeks as part of the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion relief package, and the funds should bolster consumer spending in the coming months.On Friday, the government reported that employers added 916,000 jobs in March, twice February’s gain and the most since August. The unemployment rate dipped to 6 percent, the lowest since the pandemic began, with nearly 350,000 people rejoining the labor force.Still, there is plenty of ground to make up.Even after March’s job gains, the economy is 8.4 million jobs short of where it was in February 2020. Entire sectors, like travel and leisure, as well as restaurants and bars, are only beginning to recover from the millions of job losses that followed the pandemic’s arrival. More

  • in

    Jobs Report March 2021: Gain of 916,000 as Recovery Sped Up

    The gain of 916,000 was the biggest since August, and unemployment fell to 6 percent. Barring a setback in fighting the virus, the outlook is bullish.The American job market roared back to life in March — and with vaccinations accelerating, businesses reopening and federal aid flowing, the rebound should only get stronger from here.U.S. employers added 916,000 jobs last month, twice as many as in February and the most since August, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate fell to 6 percent, its lowest level since the coronavirus pandemic began, and nearly 350,000 people rejoined the labor force.The data was collected early in the month, before most states broadened vaccine access and before most Americans began receiving $1,400 checks as part of the latest federal relief package. It was also before the recent rise in virus cases, which economists warned could slow the recovery if it worsened. But on balance, forecasters are optimistic that hiring will remain strong in coming months.“March’s jobs report is the most optimistic report since the pandemic began,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist for the career site Glassdoor. “It’s not the largest gain in payrolls since the pandemic began, but it’s the first where it seems like the finish line is in sight.”Job growth picked up last monthCumulative change in all jobs since before the pandemic More

  • in

    March 2021 Jobs Report: A Gain of 916,000

    The U.S. jobs rebound picked up steam last month, fueled by the accelerating pace of vaccinations and a new injection of federal aid.Employers added 916,000 jobs in March, up from 416,000 in February and the most since August, the Labor Department said Friday. The unemployment rate fell to 6 percent, down from 6.2 percent in February.The report came one year after the pandemic ripped a hole in the American labor market. The U.S. economy lost 1.7 million jobs in March 2020 and more than 20 million in April, when the unemployment rate peaked at nearly 15 percent.The job market bounced back quickly at first, but progress began to slow as virus cases surged and states reimposed restrictions on businesses. Over the winter, the recovery stalled out, with employers cutting more than 300,000 jobs in December.Economists said the latest data marked a turning point. Last month was the third straight month of accelerating hiring, and even bigger gains are likely in the months ahead. The March data was collected early in the month, before most states broadened vaccine access and before most Americans began receiving $1,400 checks from the federal government as part of the most recent relief package.“The tide is turning,” said Michelle Meyer, chief U.S. economist for Bank of America. The report, she said, “reaffirms this idea that the economy is accelerating meaningfully in the spring.”The United States still has millions fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic. Even if employers kept hiring at the pace they did in March, it would take months to fill the gap. And the virus remains a risk. Coronavirus cases are rising again in much of the country as states have begun easing restrictions. If that trend turns into a full-blown new wave of infections, it could force some states to backpedal, impeding the recovery.But few economists expect a repeat of the winter, when a spike in Covid-19 cases pushed the recovery into reverse. More than a quarter of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and more than two million people a day are being inoculated. That should allow economic activity to continue to rebound.“This time is different, and that’s because of vaccines,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the job site ZipRecruiter. “It’s real this time.” More

  • in

    Unemployment Claims Up a Bit; Manufacturing Gains

    Unemployment claims increased slightly last week, but remained near pandemic lows. A manufacturing index rose sharply.A year after they first rocketed upward, jobless claims may finally be returning to earth.More than 714,000 people filed for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was up slightly from the week before, but still among the lowest weekly totals since the pandemic began.In addition, 237,000 people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers people who don’t qualify for state benefits programs. That number, too, has been falling.Jobless claims remain high by historical standards, and are far above the norm before the pandemic, when around 200,000 people a week were filing for benefits. Applications have improved only gradually — even after the recent declines, the weekly figure is modestly below where it was last fall. Some 18 million people in total are receiving jobless assistance, many of them through programs that extend benefits beyond the 26 weeks that are offered in most states.But economists are optimistic that further improvement is ahead as the vaccine rollout accelerates and more states lift restrictions on business activity. Fewer companies are laying off workers, and hiring has picked up, meaning that people who lose their jobs are more likely to find new ones quickly.“We could actually finally see the jobless claims numbers come down because there’s enough job creation to offset the layoffs,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the job site ZipRecruiter.There are other signs that the economic recovery is gaining momentum. The Institute for Supply Management said Thursday that its manufacturing index, a closely watched measure of the industrial economy, hit its highest level since 1983 in March. The report’s employment index also rose strongly, a sign that manufacturers are likely to step up hiring to meet rising demand.Economists will get a more complete, albeit less timely, picture of the job market on Friday, when the Labor Department releases data on hiring and unemployment in March. Forecasters surveyed by FactSet expect the report to show that U.S. employers added more than 600,000 jobs last month, the most since October.Even better numbers probably lie ahead. The March data was collected early in the month, before most states broadened vaccine access and before most Americans began receiving $1,400 checks from the federal government as part of the newly passed relief package. Those forces should lead to even faster job growth in April, said Jay Bryson, chief economist for Wells Fargo.“If you don’t get a barnburner in March, I think you’re probably going to get one in April,” he said.The biggest risk to the economy is as it has been for the last year: the coronavirus itself. Virus cases are rising again in much of the country as states have begun easing restrictions. If that upward trend turns into a full-blown new wave of infections, it could force some states to reverse course, which could act as a brake on the recovery, Mr. Bryson warned.But few economists expect a repeat of last winter, when a jump in Covid-19 cases pushed the recovery into reverse. More than a quarter of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and more than two million people a day are being inoculated. That should allow economic activity to continue to rebound.Still, Ms. Pollak cautioned that the job market would not return to normal overnight. Even as many companies resume normal operations, others are discovering that the pandemic has permanently disrupted their business model.“There are still a lot of business closures and a lot of layoffs that have yet to happen,” she said. “The repercussions of this pandemic are still rippling through this economy.” More

  • in

    Why Are Jobless Claims Still High? For Some, It’s the Multiple Layoffs.

    A California study shows the extent of dependence on benefits over the last year and how many people have shuttled in and out of work.Jobs are coming back. Businesses are reopening. But a year after the pandemic jolted the economy, applications for unemployment benefits remain stubbornly, shockingly high — higher on a weekly basis than at any point in any previous recession, by some measures.And headway has stalled: Initial weekly claims under regular and emergency programs, combined, have been stuck at just above one million since last fall, and last week was no exception, the Labor Department reported Thursday.“It goes up a little bit, it goes down, but really we haven’t seen much progress,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist for the career site Indeed. “A year into this, I’m starting to wonder, what is it going to take to fix the magnitude problem? How is this going to actually end?”The continued high rate of unemployment applications has been something of a mystery for many economists. With the pandemic still suppressing activity in many sectors, it makes sense that joblessness would remain high. But businesses are reopening in much of the country, and trends on employment and spending are generally improving. So shouldn’t unemployment filings be falling?New evidence from California may offer a partial explanation: According to a report released Thursday by the California Policy Lab, a research organization affiliated with the University of California, nearly 80 percent of the unemployment applications filed in the state last month were from people who had been laid off earlier in the pandemic, gotten back to work, and then been laid off again.Such repeat claims were particularly common in the information sector — which in California includes many film and television employees who have been sidelined by the pandemic — and in the hard-hit hotel and restaurant industries, as well as in construction.The Policy Lab researchers had access to detailed information from the state that allowed them to track individual workers through the system, something not possible with federal data.California’s economy differs from that of the rest of the country in myriad ways, and the pandemic has played out differently there than in many other places. But if the same patterns hold elsewhere, it suggests that the ups and downs of the pandemic — lockdowns and reopenings, restrictions that tighten and ease as virus cases rise and fall — have left many workers stuck in a sort of limbo.A restaurant may recall some workers when indoor dining is allowed, only to lay them off again a few weeks later when restrictions are reimposed. A worker may find a temporary job at a warehouse, or pick up a few hours of work on a delivery app, but be unable to find a more stable job.“This shows the oscillation of employed, unemployed, employed, unemployed — people cycling back into the system,” said Elizabeth Pancotti, policy director at Employ America, a group in Washington that has been an advocate for the unemployed. “We did not see that in previous recessions.”What that instability will mean for workers’ long-term prospects remains unclear. Economic research has found that extended periods of unemployment can leave workers at a permanent disadvantage in the labor market. But there is little precedent for a period of such prolonged instability.Distributing food in Inglewood, Calif., in January. The pandemic’s economic effects hit Black workers in the state especially hard.Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times“We don’t know what happens if you’re out of work for two months, you come back to work for two months, you’re out of work for two months, you keep going back and forth,” Ms. Pancotti said.The California data shows how the economic effects of the pandemic have been concentrated among certain industries and demographic groups — and how the consequences continue to mount for the most affected workers, even as the crisis eases for many others.Nearly 90 percent of Black workers in the state have claimed unemployment benefits at some point in the pandemic, according to the Policy Lab analysis, compared with about 40 percent of whites. Younger and less-educated workers have been hit especially hard.Those totals include filings under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which covers people left out of the regular unemployment system, a group that disproportionately includes Black workers. The record-keeping for that program has been plagued by overcounting and fraudulent claims. But even a look at the state’s regular unemployment insurance program, which hasn’t faced the same issues, reveals remarkable numbers: Close to three in 10 California workers have claimed benefits during the crisis, and more than four in 10 Black workers.“That degree of inequality is mind-blowing,” said Till von Wachter of the University of California, Los Angeles, one of the report’s authors.Many of those who lost jobs early in the crisis have since returned to work. But millions have not. The Policy Lab found that nearly four million Californians had received more than 26 weeks of benefits during the pandemic, a rough measure of long-term unemployment.“We have solidly shifted into a world where a large-scale problem of long-term unemployment is now a reality,” Dr. von Wachter said. Black workers, older workers, women and those with less education have been more likely to end up out of work for extended periods.Nationally, nearly six million people were enrolled as of late February in federal extended-benefit programs that cover people who have exhausted their regular benefits, which last for six months in most states. The aid package signed by President Biden last week ensures that those programs will continue until fall, but benefits alone won’t prevent the damage that prolonged joblessness can do to workers’ careers and mental and physical health.“The recovery needs to be on the scale of being a once-in-a-generation economic upswing to really pull those people back into the labor market,” Ms. Konkel said.The latest data provides little sign of that happening. More than 746,000 people filed first-time applications for state unemployment benefits last week, up 24,000 from the previous week, according to the Labor Department. In addition, 282,000 filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.Most forecasters expect the labor market recovery to accelerate in coming months, as warmer weather and rising vaccination rates allow more businesses to reopen, and as the new injection of government aid encourages Americans to go out and spend. Policymakers at the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that they expected the unemployment rate to fall to 4.5 percent by the end of the year, a significant upgrade over the 5 percent they forecast three months ago.“We’re already starting to see improvement now, and I think that will start to accelerate fairly quickly,” said Daniel Zhao, an economist at the career site Glassdoor.But government aid can do only so much as long as the pandemic continues to limit consumers’ behavior. The pace of the recovery now, Mr. Zhao said, depends on a factor beyond the scope of normal economic analysis.“The dominating factor right now is how quickly we can get vaccines in arms,” he said. More