Thursday, June 24, 2021
June 24, 2021

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U.S. job growth slows sharply as hiring lags

Businesses struggle to find workers as economy rebounds

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WASHINGTON — The recovery of America’s job market hit a pause last month as many businesses — from restaurants and hotels to factories and construction companies — struggled to find enough workers to catch up with a rapidly strengthening economic rebound.

Employers added just 266,000 jobs in April, sharply lower than in March and far fewer than economists had expected. With viral cases declining and states and localities easing restrictions, the recovery from the pandemic recession has been so fast that many businesses have been caught flat-footed in the face of surging consumer demand.

Last month’s hiring slowdown appears to reflect a host of factors. Nearly 3 million people are reluctant to look for work because they fear catching the virus, according to government surveys. More women also dropped out of the workforce last month, likely to care for children, after many had returned in the previous two months.

In addition, construction companies and manufacturers, especially automakers, have been left short of parts because of clogged supply chains and have had to slow production for now. Both sectors pulled back on hiring in April. And some businesses say they believe that a $300-a-week jobless benefit, paid for by the federal government, is discouraging some of the unemployed from taking new jobs.

Still, companies have added jobs for four straight months, the Labor Department said Friday, though the government lowered its estimate of job growth for February and March by a combined 78,000. April’s total is far below March’s gain of 770,000.

The resumption of hiring has encouraged some Americans to start looking for jobs, which means they are newly counted as unemployed if they don’t immediately find work. This is what happened in April, when the unemployment rate ticked up from 6 percent to 6.1 percent.

Employers are now posting far more jobs than they did before the pandemic, and “help wanted” signs dot many restaurant windows. Other telltale signs of labor shortages have emerged as well: Average hourly pay rose 0.7 percent in April to $30.17, which the government said suggests that the fast reopening of the economy “may have put upward pressure on wages.” The average workweek also rose, evidence that companies are asking their employees to work more.

“Demand is outpacing supply,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, a job listings website. “That’s something that is occurring across the economy, in semiconductors to lumber, and we’re seeing a similar crunch in the labor market.”

Steven Tamasi, CEO of Boston Centerless, which manufactures parts for medical device makers and aerospace companies, said his clients had estimated in January that it would take nine months to regain pre-pandemic sales levels.

“Well, it only took three months,” he said. “It happened so fast, people were caught off guard.”

Tamasi wants to add 10 workers to his staff of about 114, which would give him a larger workforce than he had before the viral outbreak. He is quickly dusting off old contacts at state labor agencies and community colleges. But some candidates disappear after an interview or even after accepting a job. To attract more applicants, he is considering raising entry-level pay and accelerating pay raises for new workers.

The drop in hiring suggests that the Federal Reserve is still months away from slowing its purchases of Treasurys and other bonds, which are intended to keep long-term interest rates low.

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