The US unemployment rate fell to 7.9% in September, the Labor Department said on Friday in the latest job market survey ahead of the presidential election.
Unemployment has fallen sharply since reaching an all-time high of 14.7% in April after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the United States. But the rate is still well above 4.8% when Trump took office in January 2017 and the recent pace of the recovery is slowing. The current level marks the worst job loss a president has faced in an election based on records dating back to World War II.
In September, the United States added just 661,000 jobs, down from the 1.4 million jobs added in August, a month that was boosted by the temporary hiring of 238,000 people for conduct the 2020 census.
About half of the jobs lost in the first months after the coronavirus hit the United States have now been recovered. But the recovery in the workforce has been uneven, disproportionately benefiting white men, while young people, women, Latin Americans and black Americans have continued to struggle to catch up.
The unemployment rate for whites was 7% in September, 12.1% for blacks and 10.3% for Latinos. The teenage unemployment rate was 15.9%.
Dedrea Perea of Bernalillo, New Mexico, lost her telecommunications job in August. Her unemployment benefits have been suspended because she is still considered to be employed in order to maintain her health insurance and cannot reach anyone through the national unemployment agency to resolve her dilemma.
So far, state regulations have placed moratoria on evictions and utility closures, but she is at risk of having her car repossessed and struggling to cover her arrears on rent and utilities.
“I donated plasma to make small payments to my utilities and my landlord so that I wouldn’t be too late until I could find a job,” Perea said.
William Rodgers, former chief economist of the US Department of Labor and one of the most prominent black economists in the United States, said the recovery in employment appeared to have reached a “plateau” and that the persistent restrictions on the business operations, new epidemics and the upcoming flu season could all slow the recovery.
Rodgers, a public policy professor and chief economist at Rutgers University’s Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, said the current situation would likely hit minorities – and young minorities in particular – the hardest.
“This is a two-real economy,” Rodgers said. “At the start of this recession, inequality was, in many ways, at record levels. One group did well economically and worked from home while another suffered economically, and in terms of health, to a much greater degree.