Feb 26, 2021 - Economy & Business

What's really going on with the labor market

Source: YCharts
Source: YCharts

The labor market is showing some signs of improvement: Jobless claims fell to 730,000 — a dramatic drop from 841,000 the previous week. And the latest jobs report showed a pandemic-era low unemployment rate of 6.3%

But, but, but: That's not the full story, experts say.

The big picture: Last week's jobless claims are significantly lower compared with the start of the pandemic, but they're still well above pre-pandemic levels.

  • Add in the fresh filings for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program last week — created for gig and self-employed workers — and claims totaled close to 1.2 million.

One possible reason for the drop-off: Winter storms that caused power outages across Texas and beyond may have prevented some from filing for unemployment.

  • "Claims in Texas fell last week, but some economists say that could have reflected difficulty in filing for benefits," Wall Street Journal's Eric Morath writes.

Between the lines: When you account for the scores of Americans — such as overwhelmed parents and caregivers — who have simply dropped out of the workforce or others who have given up looking for work, the unemployment rate is closer to 10%, notes Nick Bunker, director of economic research at the jobs site Indeed.

There's also a great deal of inequality baked into the jobs trouble.

  • The Black unemployment rate is at 9.2%, compared with the 5.7% white unemployment rate.
  • And 2.1 million women have dropped out of the labor force, compared with 1.7 million men.

The bottom line: "The labor market is in a better spot than it was last April, but its recovery is incomplete and unequal," Bunker says.

What to watch: Workers that refuse work at unsafe workplaces will now be eligible for unemployment pay, according to a change by the Biden administration on Thursday.

Go deeper