Dec 3, 2021 - Economy

America's workers rush back to labor force

Number of workers leaving or entering the civilian labor force
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics via FRED; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The big shocker of Friday's jobs report: More than half a million people entered the labor force, the biggest influx in over a year.

Why it matters: A giant cloud over the recovery — the snail-like pace workers have returned — may be starting to clear.

  • Workers coming off the sidelines put a dent in America's historic labor shortage.

By the numbers: Across nearly all demographics, labor force participation — a measure of how many people are working or actively looking for work — spiked.

  • Hispanic and Latino workers were one standout, with that rate jumping 0.6% last month.

The big picture: What's pulling workers back in may depend on what kept them out in the first place — like lack of child care or fear of contracting the virus.

  • "We know that schools have been reopening and staying open. The Delta variant wave has diminished, though cases are still rather high," says Glassdoor economist Daniel Zhao.
  • Fatter paychecks probably don't hurt either: wages are up almost 5% from this time last year.

Reality check: There are still 2.4 million fewer people in the labor force than before the pandemic hit.

  • Economists warn some won't ever return (due to retirement, for one).

The bottom line: This was the month the workers came back.

  • "We will need to wait ... to see if this is a fluke or the start of a longer-term trend," says Zhao.

Go deeper ... A tale of two jobs reports

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