The U.S. labor market continued to show signs of a slower hiring pace in October, as payrolls increased by just 150,000, compared to expectations of 190,000, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While job gains remain above pre-pandemic levels, the latest figures suggest the market is beginning to plateau.
The seasonally adjusted jobless rate held steady at 6.9 percent, down from 14.7 percent at the apex of the coronavirus crisis. Meanwhile, the overall unemployment rate—which counts those looking for jobs but not actively searching—ticked up slightly to 12.1 percent, from 11.1 percent.
The figures highlight the tenuousness of the economic recovery, which has been buoyed by the return of millions of jobs lost to the pandemic but could be hit with a new wave of layoffs if new cases cause businesses to scale back or close.
“The number of jobs created in October was below expectations, but it’s still an improvement over the summer months when jobless claims were on the rise,” said Ryan Sweet, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics. “This could be a sign that the labor market is beginning to cool after a long period of rapid job gains since the pandemic hit the U.S.”
On a positive note, the bureau also revised the figure for September job creation—the number of payrolls actually rose by more than 322,000, not the 661,000 initially reported. This could be a sign that the labor market is still expanding and that the current tightening of restrictions has not yet had a significant impact.
All told, the latest figures underscore the pressing need for additional fiscal stimulus. While Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has offered his support for targeted aid, it remains unclear if Congress will pass any new legislation before the end of the year. Without additional aid, the labor market could significantly weaken in the coming months.