WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers added just 194,000 jobs in September, a second straight tepid gain and evidence that the pandemic still has a grip on the economy with many companies struggling to fill millions of open jobs.

Friday’s report from the Labor Department also showed that the unemployment rate fell sharply to 4.8% from 5.2% in August.

There are some encouraging signs that the economy may be emerging from the shackles of the coronavirus. With confirmed COVID-19 cases declining, restaurant traffic increasing and shoppers eager to shop, there is a sign of economic recovery.

New infections were still high when September started. Employers are struggling to find employees because many who lost their jobs during the pandemic remain unemployed and have not yet begun to look for work. Also, supply chain bottlenecks are worsening, slowing factories, restricting home builders, and emptying some shelves.

Economists believe that the majority of those who have lost their jobs or stopped searching for work after the pandemic will resume looking as COVID diminishes. They note that it took many years for the percentage of those seeking employment or working to recover to pre-recession levels. The government doesn’t count people as unemployed unless they’re actively looking for jobs.

Many factors which have kept so many people jobless may soon be changing. According to a survey by the Census Bureau, for example, the number of people who aren’t working because they must stay home to care for a child declined by half in September compared with June. This figure was barely lower than last year, as many schools were closed or conducted virtual education. According to the new Census figures, more mothers and fathers might have returned to work last month, as school started, while their children went back to school.

In addition, an August survey by the job listings website Indeed found that the proportion of unemployed Americans who said they’d like to find a job once the school year began had more than doubled from just two months earlier.

There are signs, however that it may be premature to assume that a flood will occur among parents who have returned to the workforce. Lael Brainard, a member of the Fed’s Board of Governors, noted in a recent speech that COVID-19 outbreaks in late September caused 2,000 schools to close for an average of six days in 39 states.

A number of enhanced unemployment benefits, including a federal supplement worth $300 per week and new programs covering gig workers, people without work for more than six months, were ended in September. These programs have not had an impact on job search rates.

The $300 benefits were ended by governors from 25 states before it was extended nationwide in September. Goldman Sachs economists discovered that people looking for work are more inclined to accept jobs after their benefits end. Goldman found that people who were not able to find work after the cuts did not discourage them from looking again.

One reason that workers are in short supply is the rise of retirements among older workers with higher home equity, stock portfolios and savings. Goldman Sachs estimates that about 1.5 million people have retired who wouldn’t have before the pandemic upended the economy. Economists predict that many of these individuals will stay in retirement.

Meanwhile, some job hunters remain cautious because of fear of COVID. This includes those who were previously employed in service-oriented jobs such as restaurants, bars or hotels.

Source: HuffPost.com.

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