WASHINGTON – With the viral outbreak worsening and unemployment at Depression-era levels, the government on Thursday will issue what will almost surely be another remarkable jobs report.
Hiring in June might have reached the highest monthly total on record — 3 million. Yet so deep were the layoffs this spring that a gain that large would still leave tens of millions of Americans out of work and the unemployment rate in double digits. And even a jobless rate above 10% wouldn't fully capture the scope of the pandemic's damage to the job market and the economy.
A nascent recovery, evident in some recently improved data, may be stalling, according to real time data tracked by Homebase, a provider of time-tracking software for small businesses. Nationally, the number of hours worked at Homebase's clients has leveled off after having risen sharply in May and early June. And business re-openings have flattened. The economic bounce produced by the initial lifting of shutdown orders may have run its course.
In states that are suffering the sharpest spikes in reported virus cases — Texas, Florida, Arizona and others in the Sun Belt — progress has reversed, with businesses closing again and workers losing jobs, in some cases for a second time.
Yet because Thursday's jobs report will be based on data gathered in the second week of June, it will still likely reflect an improving trend. The plateau of the past week will likely appear in the July jobs report.
Economists have forecast that employers added 3 million jobs in June and that the unemployment rate dropped to 12.3% from 13.3% in May, according to data provider FactSet. If they're correct, the job gain would top the surprise increase of 2.5 million in May, which was a record. But it would also mean that Americans have still recovered just one-quarter of the jobs they lost in March and April, when states engineered widespread shutdowns of restaurants, bars, stores, hotels movie theaters and other retail establishments.
In short, the jobs report is more important than ever but in some ways harder to read. Here are five things to look for when the report is released: