April jobs report to shine light on emerging tension: Availability of U.S. workers

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A growing tension in the U.S. economy — the potential availability of new workers — could come into sharper focus on Friday morning when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its April jobs report.

The pace of hiring has picked up markedly in the past few months, a trend that is expected to have continued in April.

Hiring has accelerated so quickly, in fact, that some businesses have complained to the White House and lawmakers that they are having a hard time recruiting workers, particularly for low-wage, hourly jobs.

The tension spilled into public on Thursday, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blamed the stimulus package passed by the White House and Congress in March for acting as an incentive for people to not return to work. Biden administration officials have countered that the $1.9 trillion stimulus package provided vital assistance to millions of Americans and has only helped the economy grow.

The U.S. economy added a robust 916,000 jobs in March, edging the unemployment rate down to 6 percent. The labor market has improved since the coronavirus pandemic ravaged numerous industries last year, but it remains millions of jobs short of where it was before the outbreak began in early 2020. The April jobs report will give further clues as to whether the hiring trend has continued or is slowing in any way. It could also show whether companies are paying higher wages than in recent months.

Many aspects of the recovery have been bumpy. Global supply chains still have not recovered. Many workers still have not returned to their offices, and the travel industry remains heavily affected. But for companies that are trying to ramp up, there are other pressures. A number of firms, including in the construction and restaurant industries, have complained to the White House about their inability to find enough workers for new positions.

Some economists, though, believe the claims of a labor shortage are overblown, and reflect other considerations workers are making amid the complicated dynamics of the pandemic. Many workers, for example, are juggling child care and health concerns at a time when many employers are trying to hire for positions that offer less than $15 an hour.

Biden administration officials are monitoring the situation closely. They have seen anecdotal reports of companies struggling to hire, but some of the broader data is less conclusive.

The economy is still ironing out other unforeseen wrinkles as well as it recovers from the unprecedented public health crisis: A global chip shortage has shaken industries such as auto manufacturing as supply struggles to keep up with uncorked demand.

For the April report, economists had forecast gains for the month of at least 1 million jobs, as sectors of the economy in the worlds of tourism and hospitality that have been so badly battered during the pandemic see more regrowth. The country has made up more than half of the 20 million jobs lost in the pandemic’s earliest months.

There have been other positive signs: Air travel remains well below pre-pandemic averages but has been increasing steadily since January. Spending at restaurants, bars and hotels has also been ticking up.

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