The United States added 1.8 million jobs in July, as the pace of gains slowed amid signs that a spike in coronavirus infections is weakening hiring and hurting the economy.
At any other time, hiring at that level would be seen as a bumper gain. But after employers shed a staggering 22 million jobs in March and April, much larger increases are needed to heal the jobs market. The hiring of the past three months has recovered only 42pc of the jobs lost to the pandemic-induced recession, according to the US Labour Department's jobs report released yesterday.
And now, with much of the nation having paused or reversed plans to restore economic activity, many employers are still reluctant or unable to hire, while consumers remain generally hesitant to shop, travel or eat out. Until the health crisis is solved through a vaccine or an effective treatment, most experts say the economy will struggle to sustain any recovery.
Though the US unemployment rate fell last month from 11.1pc to 10.2pc, that level still exceeds the highest rate during the 2008-2009 crisis.
"The progress is encouraging, but let's not lose sight of where we currently are," said Nick Bunker, economic research director at the jobs website Indeed. "By both the unemployment rate and the cumulative hit to employment, the current labour market crisis is worse than the Great Recession."
The report suggests that high unemployment and shrivelled incomes for many households will remain an issue through the November elections and a potential threat to US President Donald Trump's re-election prospects.
Congressional Democrats are pushing for more government stimulus, including an extension of a now-expired $600 (€508) weekly federal unemployment benefit.
Senate Republicans are seeking to reduce that unemployment payment in any extension.
July's job gain was much lower than June's 4.8 million and May's 2.7 million. Hiring weakened last month in a range of industries. Manufacturing added just 26,000 jobs, less than one-tenth its June gain. Restaurants, bars, hotels and entertainment venues gained 592,000, just one-quarter of their June increase. Retailers added 258,000 jobs, down from more than 800,000 in June.