Today’s report of 916,000 jobs gained, on top of strong revisions to last month’s figures, shows an economy responding to Joe Biden’s presidency, primarily the improved response and vaccination efforts in March that have brought an end in sight to the pandemic-induced economic crisis—and with growth likely in the coming months following the enactment of the American Rescue Plan. This is the third-largest month of job growth on record. We have a long way to go, but this is a clear signal that economic growth is accelerating.
Still, today’s significant labor market gains do not make up for the harm done to the economy over the past year, as millions are still struggling just to get back to paycheck-to-paycheck living. Even at this month’s historic pace, it will be well into 2022 before we reach pre-pandemic levels of employment, let alone make up for the millions of jobs that the economy would have added if not for the crisis. The recovery has resumed in earnest, but the country is still in a deep recession, and millions of workers are out of the labor force entirely, despite the relatively low 6 percent top-line unemployment number. There are now more people experiencing long-term unemployment, both in and out of the labor market, than at virtually any other time in our nation’s history.
The economy is especially tough for workers who have long faced labor market discrimination. The employment rate for women has partially recovered from its April 2020 low, but only enough for women’s employment to increase from late 1970s levels to late 1980s levels; and two-thirds of this month’s job gains went to men. Many mothers of young children are facing burnout and an unemployment crisis. They may now face decades of increased wage discrimination over resume gaps and missed promotions during this impossible year. Additionally, half of the 9 percent of all Black men who lost jobs in April 2020 are still without jobs. Workers over age 55, meanwhile, have been hit especially hard. Over the past decade, this age group was once experiencing one of the largest increases in labor market participation; but now, millions of workers are facing precarious, hasty retirements and enduring age discrimination that threatens to end careers too soon.
This month’s data were collected the same week that the American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law, so its impact only affects today’s data through expectations. This is still another month of deep underemployment, making the case even stronger for the type of ongoing stimulus that President Biden laid out in his speech in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Today’s data release also highlights the need for a robust care infrastructure package that will target the women—especially the women of color—who are most likely to work in the care economy and have been most harmed by the COVID-19 crisis. But President Biden can’t rebuild the economy alone. It now falls to Congress to ensure that the American Jobs Plan becomes law and to the Federal Reserve to continue to demonstrate its commitment to full employment.