Wages Soared in June

Payroll employment jumped by 850,000 in June, which represents a significant step in closing the gap of 6.6 million jobs we are still in the hole since the pre-pandemic peak in employment in February 2020. More than 20% of the job gains in June were in the public sector where hiring in education rose; typically we see layoffs this time of year. Reopening schools and ramping up summer programs has helped to boost gains in education at the state and local levels.

Private sector hires jumped by a solid but less spectacular 662,000. More than 50% were concentrated in the leisure and hospitality sector, which was hardest hit by the pandemic. Private sector education also added jobs as schools reopened. Again, the timing of those gains has been distorted by the pandemic. Look for employment in education to remain robust through August and September as schools attempt to reopen in person instead of just online learning. Colleges and universities will be included in those figures come August and September.

Gains in leisure and hospitality continue to be driven by hiring at restaurants and bars, which are struggling to reopen despite more vaccinations and fewer restrictions. We saw a nice gain in hotel jobs last month with the return of leisure travel and event planning. Sporting arenas posted solid gains as did venues for weddings. The weak spots remain convention centers and business travel.

Growth in some of the hardest hit cities and tourist destinations has been strongest in recent months as people return to work in major cities and take much-needed and long-delayed vacations. The percentage of workers reporting that they are still working from home dropped below 15% last month, 14.4%, the lowest level of the pandemic.

Hiring in retail picked up, with jobs at general merchandise and clothing stores leading overall gains. Foot traffic at malls has increased as consumers rush to spend on new clothing for vacations and stepping out. This is a see-and-be seen economy. Makeup has also been flying off the shelves as consumers discard their masks.

Hiring at child and day care facilities continued to expand, aided in part by funds from the most recent round of fiscal stimulus. Those gains, coupled with a full reopening of schools for the fall semester, which starts in many places in August, will help to eventually bring back working parents, mostly mothers, to the labor market. Women were harder hit than men by the COVID-recession, which cut the most jobs in the service sector.

Professional services employment continued to pick up with the strongest gains in employment services. Many firms are turning to outside recruiters to up their game and attract top talent to fill open positions. Manufacturing employment added only 15,000 jobs in June with losses in motor vehicles and parts pulling down overall gains. Construction employment contracted. Many builders have delayed construction due to material and labor shortages. The housing market is now a significant drag on the overall economy.

Average hourly earnings surged a whopping 10 cents an hour to $30.40 even as hours worked ticked down a few minutes an hour. Pay in the lowest wage jobs in leisure and hospitality surged 37 cents an hour and added 87 cents an hour for the quarter. That is the fastest pace of wage gains for low-wage workers on record and underscores the lengths employers are going to bring back workers who are either no longer attached to their previous employers, have moved on or are still struggling to find child care in the wake of the pandemic.

Separately, the household survey revealed a slight increase in the unemployment rate to 5.9% from 5.8% the previous month. Participation in the labor market remained unchanged at 61.6%, with a slight pickup in participation by adult men and women offset by a sharp drop in the participation rate of teenagers. The seasonally adjusted participation rate for teens plummeted during the month. The ranks of the long-term unemployed rose after falling during the last two months and remains stubbornly high. Many of those workers have lost their access to unemployment benefits.

The repeal of $300 per week supplements across more than half of states has yet to affect the supply of workers. It may be too early to see the effects of the rollback in supplements on the labor supply. It is important to note that those who were sidelined by the crisis face a spectrum of hurdles to return, including child care and long-haul COVID, which can reduce the ability to work. Hazards of working frontline jobs have intensified with workers forced to endure unclear rules on mask mandates.

Bottom Line
Employment is regaining ground lost to the crisis. We still have a long way to go, especially in leisure and hospitality, which was hit hardest by the crisis. Wages for low-wage workers are surging as consumers scramble to spend and ramp up faster than workers are able or comfortable returning to work.

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