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Jobless Rate Steady At 8.3% In February


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inkseep. Let's follow up on today's unemployment report. The Labor Department says unemployment stayed where it was, 8.3 percent, but the economy created 227,000 new jobs net.

And we're going to talk about that with NPR's Yuki Noguchi. She's in our studies. Yuki, good morning.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What stands out here for you?

NOGUCHI: Well, I think what stands out is that a lot of the optimism we saw leading up to this report is pretty validated, those 227,000 new jobs you mentioned in payroll. Plus December and January were better than previously reported. So now we're looking at an average of 240,000 net new jobs over the last three months.

One other thing that we haven't been able to say for a while is that government is not losing as many jobs as before.

INSKEEP: That's what had been happening. Private employers has been hiring. Government had been firing. But that's slowed down, you're saying.

NOGUCHI: Uh-huh.

INSKEEP: However, we've still got that 8.3 percent unemployment rate, even as more jobs are created. How's that happen?

NOGUCHI: Well, you might expect that rate to go down as jobs increase, but that sometimes isn't the case because the size of the workforce also fluctuates, and that's what happened here. Labor force participation went up. Not by a lot, but enough to keep the unemployment rate where it is, despite all this hiring.

And so we see people who are basically coming back into the labor force because, you know, they might have dropped out because they were discouraged but now they're back, and that's actually a sign of optimism, and of course some of them are finding work.

INSKEEP: Okay, so actually more people are seeking jobs in a more optimistic environment, and another sign of improvement in the month of February. But is this a universal improvement?

NOGUCHI: Well, most sectors grew. Professional services, health care, leisure, manufacturing. So broad-based hiring. But construction, which had been growing, stalled, and so did retail. There are also segments of the population that are not doing that well. Youth unemployment is still very high and joblessness among African-Americans, which fell a little bit in January, ticked up a little bit in February.

INSKEEP: What about the really long-term unemployed?

NOGUCHI: Yes, the people who have been out of work for more than six months, that number has been declining pretty steadily since the middle of last year, and last month it fell again, slightly, to 5.4 million. That's, of course, great for job-seekers generally. But the rising tide isn't lifting all boats equally.

I've done some reporting on unemployed workers over 50, and this group is over-represented among the long-term unemployed, and there's a study coming out today that shows it's much harder for those people to get back into the workforce once they've lost a job.

INSKEEP: Okay, very briefly, Yuki Noguchi, we have seen a couple of times before in this recovery periods of job growth that then leveled off again. Are there signs that this time the recovery in jobs could be sustained?

NOGUCHI: Well, if you compare the Great Recession to other previous recessions, it's just deeper, and then the recovery is flatter, meaning people are taking longer to get jobs again. And that tells a lot of the story. We have a lot more ground to recover, and you know, many businesses don't ever expect to recover fully to the pre-recession staffing levels that they had.

INSKEEP: But does it look like the increase in jobs in the last several months is going to be sustained this time?

NOGUCHI: Well, it remains to be seen, Steve. But right now it looks as though across a lot of sectors there's a lot of hope, and you know, we'll see if businesses continue to hire. If they do, then it becomes a virtuous cycle.

INSKEEP: NPR's Yugi Noguchi, thanks very much.

NOGUCHI: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Yuki Noguchi is a correspondent on the Science Desk based out of NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. She started covering consumer health in the midst of the pandemic, reporting on everything from vaccination and racial inequities in access to health, to cancer care, obesity and mental health.