By CHRISTOPHER RUGABER, AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — America’s employers added 661,000 jobs in September, the third straight month of slower hiring and evidence from the final jobs report before the presidential election that the economic recovery has weakened.
With September’s hiring gain, the economy has recovered only slightly more than half the 22 million jobs that were wiped out by the viral pandemic. The roughly 10 million jobs that remain lost exceed the number that the nation shed during the entire 2008-2009 Great Recession.
The unemployment rate for September fell to 7.9%, down from 8.4% in August, the Labor Department said Friday. Since April, the jobless rate has tumbled from a peak of 14.7%.
The September jobs report coincides with other data that suggests that while the economic picture may be improving, the gains have slowed since summer. The economy is under pressure from a range of threats. They include the expiration of federal aid programs that had fueled rehiring and sustained the economy — from a $600-a-week benefit for the unemployed to $500 billion in forgivable short-term loans to small businesses.
A flood of government financial support had delayed such a vicious cycle in the spring and summer. The $600-a-week federal check that Congress provided in an economic aid package was made available to the unemployed in addition to each state’s jobless benefit. Government checks for $1,200 were also sent to most adults.
But the $600 benefit expired at the end of July. And while congressional negotiations, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, continue, the prospect of a significant new aid package before the November elections looks far from certain.
Without additional economic assistance, incomes will likely drop in the coming months, said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial. After-tax income in August was higher than in February, partly because millions of Americans were receiving jobless aid. But it has fallen in three of the past four months. And Faucher said he expects after-tax income to fall below pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year.
“That means it will be difficult for consumers to maintain their spending,” he said.
Friday’s data offers voters a final look at the most important barometer of the U.S. economy before the Nov. 3 presidential election — an election whose outcome was thrown into deeper uncertainty by the announcement early Friday that President Donald Trump has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The rise in confirmed viral cases that is occurring in much of the country could force new business shutdowns or discourage consumers from traveling, shopping or visiting restaurants. A recent wave of layoffs by large companies has heightened fears that the viral outbreak still poses a serious threat to the economy.
Disney said this week that it’s cutting 28,000 jobs, a consequence of reduced customer traffic and capacity limits at Disney World in Florida and the ongoing closure of Disneyland in California.
Allstate said it will shed 3,800 jobs, or 7.5% of its workforce. Marathon Petroleum, the Ohio refiner, is slashing 2,000 jobs. And tens of thousands of airline workers are losing their jobs this month as federal aid to the airlines expires. The airlines had been barred from cutting jobs as long as they were receiving the government assistance.
The longer that laid-off workers fail to find jobs, the more likely it is that they will have to look for new work with new employers or in different occupations. Doing so can require additional training or education and take much longer to achieve than just returning to a previous job. The delay in landing a new job also erodes spending among the longer-term unemployed. The blow to consumer spending can force further job cuts as other businesses see their revenue decline and are forced to retrench.