Job gains were driven by a 145,000 jobs added in transportation and warehousing, with more modest growth in other industries.
Professional and business services added 60,000 jobs, health care added 46,000 jobs, and construction and manufacturing both added 27,000. Leisure and hospitality, one of the most badly hit sectors of the economy, added back 31,000 jobs, but that category is still 3.4 million jobs short of where it was in February.
Retail jobs were down 35,000; bars, restaurants and other food service establishment places lost 17,000.
The report comes during what economists and policymakers say is a perilous moment for the economy. The generous aid programs that helped prop up businesses and households during the worst of the pandemic have long expired, and the House, Senate and the White House have spent months in disagreement in negotiations over further action.
Unemployment benefits for an estimated 12 million people will expire at the end of the year, due to deadlines set by legislators in March. And the virus’ surge has begun touching off a new round of closures and restrictions, as the caseload surges to new heights across a broader swath of the country than before.
“There’s increasing evidence it [the recovery] is a K,” David Berson, the chief economist at Nationwide Insurance. “We had the big drop and for much of the country who are on the up part of the K, things are pretty good. Good job growth, good income growth, low interest rates. But the down part of the K, a substantial portion of the population is hurting significantly.”
The economic crisis continues to unfold in a split way: The stock market rising to record heights with investors betting on optimism about vaccine development, lifting the fortunes of the ultrawealthy, while the joblessness crisis has delivered a severe blow for those at the lower end of the income ladder.
For the high-wage earners, the jobless crisis has ended, at least temporarily. The employment rate for people making more than $60,000 a year is up compared to January 2020, while low-wage jobs are down nearly 20 percent, according to Opportunity Insights’ recovery tracker.
The economy has been sending off warning signs in recent months.
Data from the scheduling software company Homebase shows the number of hours worked by employees, the number of employees clocking in and the number of open businesses falling beginning in late October, reaching its lowest levels since the spring. It was the first time Homebase data had shown the number of working employees declining since March.
Mobility, measured in from cellphone data according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas began falling nationally in mid-November. Consumer spending, measured by credit card and debit card data compiled by Opportunity Insights, began to fall at the end of October, before rebounding in November, buoyed perhaps by the holiday season. Jobs postings also fell around that time before a slight rebound.
The number of Americans reporting trouble getting enough to eat has been creeping up, according to Census Bureau data. About 13 percent of households with children reported being sometimes or often not having enough food to eat. More than one in three people surveyed recently said that they are having difficulty paying for household expenses.
Lines of cars continue to demonstrate the elevated demand for basic supplies like food and diapers.
“Demand continues to be two to three times across the board what it was pre-pandemic,” said Phillip Vander Klay, director of policy and government relations at the National Diaper Bank Network, which works with about 220 diaper banks around the country. “With the combination of shutdowns starting up again, increased restrictions and the delay in getting more emergency relief from the federal government, we really expect this to continue into the holiday season.”