US economy adds 661,000 jobs in September as recovery slows

US economy adds 661,000 jobs in September as recovery slows

The United States economy added 661,000 jobs in September – fewer than many economists were expecting – while the unemployment rate fell to 7.9 percent, the US Department of Labor reported on Friday.

This is the final monthly snapshot of the US labour market American voters will see before the November 3 presidential election, and falls at a time of rising uncertainty around the pace of the economic recovery and President Donald Trump’s reelection bid after he and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19.

September marks the fifth straight month of jobs gains since the economy hemorrhaged more than 22 million of them in March and April as coronavirus lockdowns swept the nation.

More than 11 million of those positions have been clawed back. But the labour market is still well shy of its pre-pandemic strength.

Back in February, the unemployment rate was hovering near a half-century low at 3.5 percent.

Though job creation is moving in the right direction, it is not moving fast enough for millions of laid-off Americans, many of whom have already faced or are facing permanent job losses.

Tuesday’s debate between US President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden offered nothing in the way of thoughtful discourse on how to get unemployed Americans back to work.

Trump is advocating the same policy mix he used prior to the pandemic to nurse the economy back to health: tax cuts, regulatory rollbacks and a continuation of his administration’s ‘America First’ crackdown on trade deals and trading partners Washington regards as unfair.

Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ blueprint aims to revive the US economy from the ravages of COVID-19 while redressing long-festering inequalities and the climate crisis. His policy mix includes hiking corporate taxes to fund innovation and buy American products to expand jobs; tax incentives and penalties to encourage US firms to keep and create jobs in America; a massive $2 trillion investment in clean energy and a federal boost for caregiving.

Multiple gauges of economic activity released this week signal that the recovery is starting to plateau. Layoffs remain widespread, activity at the nation’s factory is downshifting, household incomes fell more than expected in August and consumer spending – the engine of the US economy accounting for some two-thirds of growth – has also slowed sharply.

The entire fall in household incomes is due to the expiration of the federal $600 weekly top to state unemployment benefits at the end of July.

The White House and Congress remain at loggerheads over a new round of virus relief aid.