Surprise US job surge lifts employment back to pre-COVID levels

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A hiring sign is posted at a Target store in San Rafael, California, on Friday. AFP

The US jobs market grew much faster than expected in July, lifting employment back to pre-pandemic levels, in news welcomed by President Joe Biden as he faces tough midterm elections — but which also fuels concerns over sky-high inflation.

Even the White House had predicted job gains would slow last month, which Biden had said was part of the natural downshift after the rapid rebound of the world’s largest economy from the pandemic downturn.

Instead, US job growth jumped in July, as the economy added a surprising 528,000 positions, more than double what economists were expecting, according to official data released on Friday. That took the jobless rate back to the pre-pandemic level of February 2020.

“Today, the unemployment rate matches the lowest it’s been in more than 50 years: 3.5 per cent,” Biden said in a statement.

“More people are working than at any point in American history… there’s more work to do, but today’s jobs report shows we are making significant progress for working families.”

On top of the hiring surge last month, the Labor Department report said the outsized job gain in June was revised higher, as was May, adding a total 28,000 positions to the initial data.

Other recent US economic data has stoked recession fears, but White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called Friday’s employment report “one of the many economic indicators (that) shows us that we are not in a recession, that we are in a transition.”

Meanwhile, the closely watched report showed wages jumped in July — with average hourly earnings up 15 cents from June — stoking concerns about a possible wage-price spiral. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 5.2 per cent.

That’s good for families struggling to make ends meet as they face soaring prices for groceries and gas, but could drive firms to raise prices further.

With inflation topping nine percent, the highest in more than 40 years, the Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates aggressively to cool the economy, and economists now say a third consecutive three-quarter-point hike is likely in September.

Biden, in remarks at the White House, acknowledged “how hard it is to feel good about job creation when you already have a job and you’re dealing with rising prices, food, gas and so much more.”

The US president called for passage of his health and climate investment bill that has picked up momentum on Capitol Hill in recent days, calling it “a game changer for working families and our economy.”

Agence France-Presse

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