The U.S. Department of Labor released its latest employment figures last week, showing a steady upward trajectory for jobs added and a downward trend for unemployment claims. October posted a gain of 638,000 jobs among nonfarm payroll and after six months of steady—albeit slow—improvement, unemployment reached 6.9%. Even with those improvements, unemployment remains nearly three percentage points higher than the two-year trend set ahead of COVID-19.

Those numbers would have been better, said U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia, if it weren’t for declines in government jobs. “Teachers’ unions take note,” he added, “School closures are bad not just for students, but for workers, too.” Meanwhile, more than twice as many veterans are claiming unemployment this Veterans Day than did the same time last year, reminding us that some of the most important populations are held out of the workplace amid a pandemic.

Regarding door and window industry-related positions, employment in wholesale trade changed little in October, while construction added 84,000 jobs, including 18,000 among specialty trade contractors serving residential. The latest additions add up to 789,000 jobs tacked onto the construction sector over the last six months. Manufacturing rose by 38,000 in October, but remains 621,000 lower than February 2020. As the job market remains constricted, among the demographics hardest hit by the pandemic remains teenagers, who register at nearly 14% unemployment. Meanwhile, “The unemployment rate for adult women is now lower than for adult men,” Scalia said, with adult men currently measuring at 6.7%, while adult females register slightly better at 6.5%. Among minorities, “Labor force participation increased, and Asian, Black, and Hispanic Americans all saw substantial decreases in unemployment,” Scalia said. Blacks currently register at 10.8%, while Asians are at 7.6% and Hispanics at 8.8%.

With the number of unemployed persons falling by 1.5 million to 11.1 million in October, unemployment claims decreased in the final week by 7,000, to a total of 751,000. According to the last measure, taken the week of October 17, newly discharged veterans claiming benefits totaled 12,417—a decrease of 658 over the prior week. There were 907 initial claims filed by newly discharged veterans, up 58 from the prior week.

Despite ongoing disparities between the number employed and those seeking jobs, the labor market continues to improve, Scalia suggested. “The strong economic rebound continues, with approximately 900,000 private sector jobs gained back in September and again in October, and the October unemployment rate dropping a full point,” he said.

The number of persons not in the labor force who currently want jobs decreased by 539,000 to 6.7 million in October, but among those unemployed, the highest number (3.6 million) say they’ve been out of work for 27 weeks or more. The number reporting that they’re on temporary layoff fell by 1.4 million to 3.2 million—a far cry from the high of 18.1 million that registered in April, but still 2.4 million higher than February 2020. Even with those improvements, surveys and job statistics indicate there are plenty of employees eager not only for jobs, but for more hours at the jobs they have. The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls remained at 34.8 hours in October, while manufacturing increased by 0.3 hour to 40.5 hours. The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons increased by 383,000 to 6.7 million—including individuals who had their hours reduced or were unable to find full-time jobs.

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