September was another weak month for job growth as the Labor Department announced the US added only 194,000 jobs. That was down from 366,000 in August and well below the over one million jobs added in July. It was around this time that the more contagious Covid-19 Delta variant began to spread stopping the rebounding economy in its tracks. The unemployment rate fell to 4.8 percent, partly as a result of people leaving the workforce entirely.
This is not the trend we wanted to see headed into the holiday shopping season but there may be signs of improvement headed there. Firstly, to the extent that there gains in the September report they were in retail trade, transportation, and warehousing. Retail trade rose by 56,000, following 2 months of little change. Transportation and warehousing increased by 47,000 in September, in line with gains in the prior 2 months. There are even more opportunities available in trucking, transportation, warehousing, and logistics but it is difficult matching applicants with the necessary skills for those positions. Still, hopefully the increased staffing in retail and transportation signals a strong holiday shopping season, despite supply chain challenges.
With holiday shopping also comes holiday travel and another field which saw gains was in leisure and hospitality, which increased by 74,000 in September, with continued job growth in arts, entertainment, and recreation. For a place like New York City, which really wants to get tourism back on track these could all be some silver linings.
There was concern that robust unemployment benefits were preventing people from returning to the workforce but the first month since those benefits ended do not bear that out. It will be interesting to see if November sees a large spike. Also worth monitoring are employment concerns over vaccination mandates. Do people leave jobs in mass or will the numbers look more like rounding errors? Certainly there is much unknown going into the end of the year.