U.S. employers shed jobs last month for the first time since April, cutting 140,000 positions, clear evidence that the economy is faltering as the viral pandemic tightens its grip on consumers and businesses.
At the same time, the unemployment rate stayed at 6.7%, the first time it hasn’t fallen since April.
Friday’s figures from the Labor Department suggest that employers have rehired roughly all the workers they can afford to after having laid off more than 22 million in the spring — the worst such loss on record. With consumer spending barely growing over the past few months, most companies have little incentive to hire. The economy still has nearly 10 million fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic sent it into a deep recession nearly a year ago having recovered just 56% of those lost.
The pandemic will likely continue to weaken the economy through the winter and perhaps early spring, and further job losses are possible early this year. But many economists, along with the Federal Reserve’s policymakers, say they think that once the coronavirus vaccines are more widely distributed, a broad recovery should take hold in the second half of the year. The incoming Biden administration, along with a now fully Democratic-controlled House and Senate, is also expected to push rescue aid and spending measures that could accelerate growth.