August Jobs Report Is Expected to Show Healthy Gain

Daily Business Briefing

Sept. 7, 2021, 11:24 a.m. ET

Sept. 7, 2021, 11:24 a.m. ET

A barber shop that accepts Bitcoin in San Salvador, El Salvador. The country will make the cryptocurrency legal tender starting on Tuesday.
Credit…Marvin Recinos/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • End of pandemic benefits: The federal emergency unemployment benefits of $300 a week and other aid for unemployed workers will expire. The cutoff could have long-term consequences for both families and the economy, as data showed a hiring slowdown in August.

  • Job openings: Data from the Labor Department will show whether job openings in the United States continued to rise in July. Economists are on the lookout for evidence of the Delta variant’s effect on the economy.

  • E.C.B. meeting: The European Central Bank is scheduled to meet and discuss the outlook of its asset purchase program. Officials will consider new forecasts for gross domestic product and inflation and may signal a path to raising rates.

  • Affirm earnings: Affirm, the buy now, pay later provider, is set to release its quarterly financial report after the bell. The company’s services have become an increasingly popular option among consumers, leading to a recent partnership with Amazon to allow customers to pay in installments.

  • Kroger earnings: The grocery chain is scheduled to report its financial performance. Kroger’s stock has risen more than 47 percent in 2021, but supply-chain and freight costs continue to weigh on suppliers.

After gathering steam in June and July, hiring slowed considerably in August, a sign that the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus was hindering the economic recovery. Businesses added 235,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department reported on Friday, far below the 725,000 jobs expected by economists polled by Bloomberg.

“There’s no question that the Delta variant is why today’s job report isn’t stronger,” President Biden said. “I know people were looking, and I was hoping, for a higher number.”

Here’s what you need to know about the latest jobs report:

Takeaways From the August Jobs Report

Takeaways From the August Jobs Report

Ben Casselman

Ben Casselman📊 Reporting on jobs and the economy

Ella Koeze

We saw disappointing job growth in August. Employers added just 235,000 jobs, far below economists’ expectations for a gain of 725,000.

Here’s what you need to know →

Pay has been climbing strongly in recent months as job openings have exceeded the number of people actively looking for work.
Credit…Octavio Jones/Reuters

Wages continued to grow briskly in August even as hiring decelerated, a surprising development that economists said was probably driven partly by continuing demand for workers in spite of coronavirus outbreaks caused by the Delta variant.

Average hourly earnings climbed by 0.6 percent from July to August, more than the 0.3 percent that economists in a Bloomberg survey had forecast. Over the past year, they were up 4.3 percent, exceeding the expected 3.9 percent.

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Solid earnings growth came in stark contrast to job gains, which slowed markedly. Employers added 235,000 workers to payrolls in August, far fewer than expected, as leisure and hospitality hiring stagnated.

Wage gains have been hard to read during the pandemic because they have been affected by what economists call “composition effects”: Virus layoffs and unusual rehiring patterns have shaken up who is working, and when higher-paid workers make up a bigger share of the pool, it can deceptively look as if average pay rates are climbing. Such quirks have been less pronounced in recent months, but changes in the labor force as the virus surged in August probably drove some of the apparent disconnect between compensation and hiring.

“A month with no net job gains in the low-paid leisure and hospitality sector will see a bigger increase in average hourly earnings than a month with more even payroll growth,” Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in an research note after the release.

Pay has been climbing strongly in recent months as job openings have exceeded the number of people actively looking for work. Michael Feroli, the chief U.S. economist at J.P. Morgan, suggested that strong unmet demand for workers may have contributed to especially strong wage gains at restaurants and hotels last month — but that it wasn’t a simple story.

“It is possible that firms are having a hard time finding workers in this low-wage sector,” Mr. Feroli wrote, noting that the 1.3 percent average hourly earnings increase for leisure and hospitality employees over the past month was rapid compared to that seen in other sectors. At the same time, “aggregate hours in the sector declined for the first time this year in August, suggesting that the spread of the Delta variant may be limiting demand for labor.”

It is unclear whether the wage pressures will last as workers return to the labor market. While it is hard to gauge how much enhanced unemployment benefits discouraged workers from taking jobs, and early evidence suggests that the effect was limited, a few companies have signaled that labor supply has been improving somewhat as benefits were cut off early in some states. Plus, other trends — the end of summer and the resumption of in-person school and day care — may allow parents and other would-be workers who have been on the sidelines to return to the jobs search.

“As those states rolled off the enhanced unemployment benefits, what we did see was an initial nice pickup in applicant flow and staffing,” Jeff Owen, the chief operating officer at Dollar General, said in a recent earnings call. “The good news now is we’re seeing that across the system, and so it’s hard to discern that impact now because everything is up.”

If many people do begin to look for work in the coming months, helping the stagnating labor force participation rate to rebound, it could keep wages from rising as strongly because employers will have to compete less to attract talent.

Higher pay can feed into higher inflation, but many economists pointed out that today’s rapid wage growth is unlikely to worry the Federal Reserve — which is in charge of keeping price gains under control — when productivity seems to be improving.

If so-called “unit labor costs” remain under wraps, meaning that it isn’t costing companies too much more to hire labor to produce the same amount of output, that should prevent painfully higher wage bills for businesses that could feed into persistently higher consumer prices. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, referred to that consideration in a footnote to a major speech last week.

“If wage increases were to move materially and persistently above the levels of productivity gains and inflation, businesses would likely pass those increases on to customers,” Mr. Powell said. “Today we see little evidence of wage increases that might threaten excessive inflation.”

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The ranks of the long-term unemployed shrank last month. But millions of Americans are still struggling to return to work as the federal government prepares to cut off the aid that has kept many of them afloat.

About 3.2 million workers in August had been unemployed for more than six months, economists’ standard definition for long-term unemployment. That was down from 3.4 million in July, and from a peak of 4.2 million in March. But it is still triple the level before the pandemic.

The official figures almost certainly understate the actual total because they exclude people who aren’t actively looking for work. That has been a particularly significant issue during the pandemic because child care issues, health concerns and other factors have kept many people from the work force.

Economic research has shown that once workers have been unemployed for more than six months, they have a harder time finding jobs. That has consequences not just for the workers themselves but for the economy as a whole, making it harder for overall employment to return to precrisis levels.

Expanded unemployment benefits, which the federal government has offered during the pandemic, have helped many workers pay bills while looking for work. But those programs end after this week, which will leave an estimated 7.5 million workers without benefits and will reduce payments for millions more.

The expanded benefits have already ended in about half of the states, which opted out of the programs early. The governors in those states, nearly all Republicans, argued that the benefits were discouraging people from returning to work, although there is little evidence so far that ending the programs has led to a pickup in hiring.

The looming deadline may have pushed some people to take jobs, however.

Wayne Pick, 52, took a job as a United States Postal Service carrier in late August after more than a year out of work. He will make more than $10,000 a year less as a carrier than he did in his old job as an assistant property manager in Chicago. But with unemployment benefits expiring this month, if he didn’t take the carrier job, he wouldn’t be able to pay his mortgage, he said.

“I took it in desperation,” he said. “I held out for the longest time. The unemployment benefits were very generous.”

Things were looking up in May, he said, when infection rates were down and more people were vaccinated. Mr. Pick noticed that he was doing more interviews, with many being in person. But once the Delta variant started spreading across the country, he said he started getting fewer calls. He is continuing to apply for jobs in the hope of finding something that pays better.

“I don’t really hold out a lot of hope,” Mr. Pick said. “Things in the city really aren’t doing that well.”

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Biden Calls Economic Recovery ‘Durable and Strong’

President Biden said the spread of the Delta variant led to the disappointing August jobs report, but that his administration’s recovery plan “is working.”

We have more evidence of the progress of our economy from last year’s economic calamity. Today, we learned the economy created 235,000 new jobs in August and the unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent, the lowest it has been in 18 months. But despite the impact of the Delta variant — and I’ll talk a little more about that in a minute — what we’re seeing is an economic recovery that’s durable and strong. The Biden plan is working. We’re getting results, America is on the move again. Today’s revision of previous month job gains— with the revision of the July numbers — this report means that we have been adding an average of 750,000 jobs per month on average during the past three months. While I know some wanted to see a larger number today, and so did I, what we’ve seen this year is the continued growth, month after month, in job creation. It’s not just that I’ve added more jobs than any first year — in the first year of any president — it’s that we’ve added jobs in every single one of my first seven job reports and wages are going up.

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President Biden said the spread of the Delta variant led to the disappointing August jobs report, but that his administration’s recovery plan “is working.”CreditCredit…Jim Watson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

President Biden on Friday blamed the Delta variant of the coronavirus for the slowdown in hiring reflected in an August jobs report, which fell well short of expectations. But the president continued to express optimism about the economic outlook, calling the U.S. recovery “durable and strong.”

The Labor Department reported Friday that the economy added 235,000 jobs in August, a sharp deceleration from the gains of June and July that disappointed forecasters. Mr. Biden conceded the shortfall, but he stressed the continued growth of job gains and said the economy was showing a strength that could withstand “the ups and downs of the Delta variant.”

“There’s no question that the Delta variant is why today’s job report isn’t stronger,” Mr. Biden said. “I know people were looking, and I was hoping, for a higher number.”

But, he added, “what we’ve seen this year is the continued growth month after month in job creation.”

The president reiterated the need for more Americans to get vaccinated for things to return to normal, saying the nation was “not where we need to be in our recovery.” More than 205 million Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, but Mr. Biden said the high numbers of the unvaccinated were causing anxiety around the country. He promised that next week he would lay out new steps to combat the Delta variant, though what that might be remains unclear.

As Mr. Biden was speaking, The New York Times reported that the White House was warned on Thursday by top federal health officials that it needed to scale back a plan to offer booster shots to the general public later this month.

Mr. Biden sought to look beyond the lackluster jobs numbers to his broader agenda. He called on Congress to “finish the job of passing my economic agenda,” including a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a sprawling spending bill to invest in child care, paid leave, education, worker training, combating climate change and more. He renewed calls to pay for that spending by raising taxes on high earners and corporations, in the face of a mounting lobbying effort to blunt those proposals.

“For those big corporations that don’t want things to change, my message is this: It is time for working families, the folks who built this country, to have their taxes cut,” Mr. Biden said. “And those corporations are keeping that from happening.”

Mr. Biden’s economic team in recent weeks has expressed confidence in the strength of the labor market and optimism that job gains could accelerate this fall, as a new school year begins and some parents are able to return to the work force. Senior administration officials said in an interview late last month that there were not yet signs of the Delta variant beginning to weigh on job growth, though they also said White House economists had recently marked down internal, informal forecasts for economic growth this year over Delta concerns.

Progressive groups warned on Friday that the weakening labor market could leave millions of Americans vulnerable to food insecurity and eviction this month, because of the imminent expiration of extended unemployment benefits that were funded under the $1.9 trillion economic aid bill Mr. Biden signed into law in March. Administration officials have called on some states with high unemployment to use relief funds from that aid bill to provide continued benefits for the long-term unemployed. Mr. Biden echoed those calls on Friday.

But Mr. Biden has not called on Congress to extend the federal benefits. Administration officials say it is appropriate for them to expire as scheduled.

“I don’t think we necessarily need a blanket policy for unemployment benefits at this point around the country,” the labor secretary, Martin J. Walsh, said in an interview on Friday, “because states are in different places.”

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Source: Factset

Stocks on Wall Street wavered on Friday, and the S&P 500 ended the day little changed, after the government reported that employers added just 235,000 jobs in August, far below economists expectations for a gain of 725,000.

Other data from the Labor Department was more upbeat: The unemployment rate fell, as economists had predicted, to 5.2 percent from 5.4 percent, and wage growth was faster than expected.

Investors seemed to struggle to interpret such a mixed report. The slowdown in hiring could give the Federal Reserve more room to decide when to roll back monetary stimulus, but economists are closely watching wages for signs of sustained higher inflation that the central bank wants to avoid.

“The Fed has to be careful in how they guide the markets around the timing of taper,” said Michelle Meyer, the chief U.S. economist at Bank of America, referring to a slowdown in the pace of the central bank’s bond-buying program. “It will be a function of the data flow and, specifically, how the economy reacts to the movement of Delta.”

After the report, bond yields dropped before almost immediately rebounding. By Friday afternoon, the 10-year yield on U.S. Treasury notes was 1.33 percent, up from 1.29 percent before the data was released.

The slowdown in hiring came in August as the spread of the Delta variant caused Americans to pull back on spending in restaurants and on other services, while businesses have reported challenges in finding new staff. Hiring in the leisure and hospitality sectors was flat, the Labor Department said, after increasing on average of 350,000 per month for the previous six months.

The absence of hiring in the these low-wage sectors helped push overall wage growth higher, Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note.

“That puts the Fed in an uncomfortable position — with the slowdown in the real economy and employment growth accompanied by signs of even more upward pressure on wages and prices,” Mr. Ashworth wrote.

One Apple feature would allow parents to activate an alert when their children sent or received nude photographs in text messages.
Credit…Apple

Apple said on Friday that it would delay its rollout of child safety measures, which would have allowed it to scan users’ iPhones to detect images of child sexual abuse, after criticism from privacy groups.

The company announced in early August that iPhones would begin using complex technology to spot images of child sexual abuse, commonly known as child pornography, that users uploaded to its iCloud storage service. Apple also said it would let parents turn on a feature that could flag them when their children sent or received nude photos in text messages.

The measures faced strong resistance from computer scientists, privacy groups and civil-liberty lawyers because the features represented the first technology that would allow a company to look at a person’s private data and report it to law enforcement authorities.

“Based on feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers and others, we have decided to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features,” Apple said in statement posted to its website.

The feature would have allowed Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri, to direct people who asked about child sexual abuse to appropriate resources, as well as enable parents to turn on technology that scans images in their children’s text messages for nudity.

The tool that generated the most backlash, however, was a software program that would have scanned users’ iPhone photos and compared them with a database of known child sexual abuse images.

The tech giant announced the changes after reports in The New York Times showed the proliferation of child sexual abuse images online.

Matthew Green, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University, said that once the ability to sift through users’ private photos was out there, it would have been ripe for misuse. Governments, for example, could potentially lean on Apple’s technology to help track down dissidents.

Apple argued that it was “going to resist pressure from all governments in the world, including China,” Mr. Green said. “That didn’t seem like a very safe system.”

Apple did not appear to anticipate such a backlash. When the company announced the changes, it sent reporters technical explainers and statements from child-safety groups and computer scientists applauding the effort.

But Mr. Green said the company’s move did not seem to take into account the views of the privacy and child safety communities. “If I could have designed a rollout that was intended to fail, it would have looked like this one,” he said.

What matters, experts said, is what Apple will do now that it has hit pause. Will it cancel the initiative entirely, simply roll out nearly identical features after a delay or find a middle ground?

“We look forward to hearing more about how Apple intends to change or improve its planned capabilities to tackle these problems without undermining end-to-end encryption, privacy and free expression,” Samir Jain, the policy director for the Center for Democracy and Technology, an advocacy group, said in a statement.

Joe Mullin, a policy analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, said the foundation had a petition with more than 25,000 signatures asking Apple not to introduce the feature. He said that it was “great that they’re taking a moment to think things over,” but that he and other privacy coalitions would continue to plead with Apple to abandon its plan altogether.

Kraft Heinz was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of inflating its cost savings.
Credit…Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

When Kraft merged with Heinz in 2015, it was meant to be another chance for the private equity firm 3G Capital to apply the same ruthless cost savings it had already introduced at Heinz and had used throughout the consumer goods industry. But at Kraft Heinz, the strategy was pushed too far, federal regulators said.

On Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission said it had charged the packaged food giant and two former executives with a “scheme” to inflate those cost savings. Kraft Heinz will pay $62 million to settle the case.

“Kraft and its former executives are charged with engaging in improper expense management practices that spanned many years and involved numerous misleading transactions, millions in bogus cost savings and a pervasive breakdown in accounting controls,” Anita Bandy, an associate director of the S.E.C.’s enforcement division, said in a statement.

“Kraft and its former executives are being held accountable for placing the pursuit of cost savings above compliance with the law,” she added.

Kraft Heinz has “fully cooperated” with the S.E.C. investigation, said Kathy Krenger, a spokeswoman for the company.

“The internal control weaknesses we identified and disclosed in 2019 were fully remediated in 2020,” Ms. Krenger said. “Kraft Heinz is much stronger today because of the actions we took and embedded into our company culture.”

The company neither admitted nor denied the S.E.C.’s findings.

Kraft Heinz set performance targets for its procurement division tied to achieving cost savings that the company had promised investors in the wake of the merger, the S.E.C. said in its lawsuit. But by 2017, Kraft Heinz had “largely exhausted its ability” to extract more savings from the 2015 merger, just as it as was facing inflationary headwinds.

Kraft Heinz’s former chief operating officer Eduardo Pelleissone continued to push for “unreasonable” levels of cost savings, the suit alleges, and the division improperly recognized 59 transactions.

The suit charges Mr. Pelleissone with ignoring warning signs of the accounting misconduct and the company’s former chief procurement officer Klaus Hofmann with failing to design effective accounting controls.

Mr. Pelleissone agreed to penalties totaling $314,211. Mr. Hofmann agreed to a fine of $100,000 and a ban on serving as an officer or director of a public company for five years.

Lawyers for Mr. Pelleissone and Mr. Hofmann did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Neither man admitted wrongdoing.

Kraft Heinz first disclosed the S.E.C. inquiry in early 2019, the same day it announced it would be writing down the value of its Kraft and Oscar Mayer brands by more than $15 billion, sending its shares in a tailspin. As the company worked through issues with regulators, it twice delayed its annual report and unveiled further write-downs of its well-known brands.

Warren E. Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway teamed up with 3G on the 2015 merger, has since said he “overpaid” for the packaged food giant. Berkshire owns a little over a quarter of the company.

A number of senior executives have left Kraft Heinz since the 2019 disclosure, including Bernardo Hees, who had served as chief executive, and David Knopf, who had been the chief financial officer.

James Simons, the founder of Renaissance Technologies, which will settle a long-running dispute with the I.R.S.
Credit…Daniel Rosenbaum for The New York Times

Renaissance Technologies said on Thursday it had agreed to settle a long-running dispute with the Internal Revenue Service with a settlement that will require current and former insiders — including its founder — to pay billions in taxes, interest and penalties.

The settlement, which involves 10 years’ worth of trades made by the hedge fund, could be worth as much as $7 billion, according to a person with knowledge of the agreement. That makes it one of the largest federal tax disputes in history, report Matthew Goldstein and Kate Kelly of The New York Times.

James Simons, the mathematician who pioneered an algorithmic approach with the founding of Renaissance, and six other people who were on the board from 2005 to 2015 along with their spouses will pay the additional taxes owed, plus interest and penalties. Mr. Simons will also make a payment of $670 million on top of those obligations.

Included in that group is Robert Mercer, a former Renaissance co-chief whose support of conservative causes — including his help founding the now-defunct political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica — unnerved some of the firm’s investors. Cambridge Analytica was at the heart of a scandal for harvesting Facebook data without users’ consent in a bid to assist Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Other investors will also owe taxes and interest, but no penalties, according to a letter that Peter Brown, the firm’s chief executive, sent to investors.

The settlement centered on the firm’s Medallion fund, which manages about $15 billion, mostly for employees and former employees of the firm and their family members. The dispute involved the tax treatment of certain transactions by Renaissance, which specializes in rapid-fire trades. The hedge fund argued that many of its trades were eligible to be taxed at a lower long-term capital gains rate because it had converted them into longer-term holdings through the use of complex financial instruments. The I.R.S. disagreed, saying the short-term rate was appropriate.

The dispute involved a congressional inquiry and a rewriting of I.R.S. guidance that sought to clamp down on that type of trading.

Tyson Foods said roughly 75 percent of its U.S. work force had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
Credit…Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Tyson Foods said it would provide 20 hours of paid sick time a year to fully vaccinated employees to enhance benefits for workers willing to receive coronavirus vaccinations.

The new benefit, announced on Friday, followed discussions with the United Food & Commercial Workers, which represents several thousand Tyson workers, over the company’s requirement that all its U.S. workers be vaccinated “as a condition of employment” by Nov. 1. The paid sick leave policy takes effect on Jan. 1, and also applies to all nonunion employees.

Tyson also said fully vaccinated employees could take up to two weeks of paid administrative leave if they tested positive for Covid-19 over the next six months. The company said it would compensate workers for time spent in “educational sessions about the benefits and risks of the Covid vaccines.”

The union initially expressed reservations when Tyson announced the vaccine mandate last month, but applauded the paid sick leave benefit on Friday, saying it was the first national agreement that provides such a benefit to meatpacking workers. Union officials have said providing paid sick time is important so workers can still be paid if they miss work or experience some of the vaccines’ common side effects.

“Vaccine mandates, like all Covid workplace safety policies, must be negotiated with workers to build the trust and strong consensus needed for these safeguards to be effective,” the U.F.C.W. president, Marc Perrone, said in a statement.

On Friday, Tyson said about 90,000, or roughly 75 percent, of its U.S. work force had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. More than 30,000 workers have been vaccinated since the company announced its mandate in early August.

Tyson said it now had the support of the U.F.C.W. and the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union for its vaccine policies. Together, those unions represent more than 80 percent of the company’s 31,000 unionized employees.

“Getting vaccinated remains the single most effective thing we can do to fight this pandemic and continue to help feed this country and our world,” Johanna Soderstrom, Tyson’s chief human resources officer, said in a statement.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the retail wholesale union, said the paid sick time agreement with Tyson “is a clear blueprint many other industries can and should follow.”

“Everything I invest in is a creator-focused company,” said Li Jin, founder of Atelier Ventures.
Credit…Ross Mantle for The New York Times

If there is such a thing as an It Girl in venture capital these days, Li Jin would fill the bill. She sits at the intersection of start-up investing and the fast-growing ecosystem of online creators, both of which are red hot.

She formed her own venture firm, Atelier Ventures, last year and has raised a relatively small $13 million for a fund, but Ms. Jin was among the first investors in Silicon Valley to take influencers seriously and has written about and backed creators for years, Taylor Lorenz reports for The New York Times.

A Harvard graduate who was inspired by the ideas of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, Ms. Jin, 31, is also aggressively pro-worker. She has made it clear in podcasts and her Substack newsletter that creators should get the same rights as other workers. Among the ideas she has championed is a “universal creative income,” which would guarantee creators a base amount of money to live on.

Now as large venture capital firms flock to influencer start-ups, and as Facebook, YouTube and others introduce $1 billion creator funds, Ms. Jin’s track record has made her a go-to business guru for many digital stars who are trying to navigate the fast-changing landscape.

Hank Green, 41, a top creator on YouTube and TikTok, said he often tossed ideas back and forth with her by phone. Markian Benhamou, 23, a YouTuber with more than 1.4 million subscribers, credited her with understanding what creators go through. Marina Mogilko, 31, a YouTube creator in Los Altos, Calif., said Ms. Jin “started the whole creator economy movement in Silicon Valley.”

“She was talking about the creator economy years and years and years before anyone else was,” said Jack Conte, a co-founder and the chief executive of Patreon, a crowdfunding site for content creators. “She really sees the future before other people do.”

The best indicator of the economy’s health is the Labor Department’s monthly jobs report. Here’s how to decode it:

The jobs report is based on two surveys.

One counts people, and the other counts jobs. They generally point to parallel trends, but there are some notable differences.

The household survey counts how many people are in the labor force — either working or actively looking for work.

Lately that’s been around 161 million, still fewer than before the pandemic.

The number that gets the most attention — the overall increase or decrease in jobs — comes from the survey of employers. Before the pandemic, a gain of 100,000 to 200,000 would be considered solid. But with the economy still nearly six million jobs short of where it was before the pandemic, it takes a bigger increase for a report to qualify as good news.

So far this year, the monthly gains have averaged slightly under 600,000.

The unemployment rate is the percentage of those people who aren’t working. Early last year, that rate was at its lowest point in decades — 3.5 percent. When the pandemic hit, it shot up to 14.8 percent. It has fallen steadily since then, to 5.2 percent in August.

If the unemployment rate goes up, that isn’t always purely bad news.

Sometimes the number goes down because people have stopped looking for work, so they aren’t counted as part of the labor force.

And sometimes the unemployment rate goes up because more people have decided to look for work but haven’t found a job yet. That can signal economic optimism.

In a fast-moving economy, the numbers behind the monthly jobs report are a bit dated. The household survey is generally conducted on the calendar week that includes the 12th of the month, and the survey of employers is taken in the pay period that includes the 12th.

The employer survey, with a bigger sample, is considered more reliable. But it does not take into account the self-employed, unpaid family workers, domestic help or agricultural workers.

Generally, the numbers are seasonally adjusted. That means the effects of ordinary weather changes, major holidays and school schedules are removed so that underlying trends are more evident.

Employers have faced challenges hiring and retaining workers during the pandemic.
Credit…Matt Rourke/Associated Press
  • Walmart is raising hourly wages for about 565,000 workers in the latest example of a large employer trying to attract and retain employees in a challenging labor environment. The pay raise, which will total at least $1 an hour and will take effect Sept. 25, will apply to workers in departments such as food and general merchandise. The company’s average wage will rise to $16.40, Walmart said, though its minimum wage still lags that of other large retailers such as Target and Amazon. As of Sept. 25, Walmart’s minimum starting wage will rise to $12 an hour from $11.

  • Uber postponed its return-to-office date to Jan. 10, after earlier delaying it to Oct. 25 from Sept. 25.

  • Locast, a nonprofit streaming service that piped local broadcast signals over the internet, is shutting down after a federal judge ruled against the organization in a rare case tackling the legality of network content delivered online. The organization said it was “suspending operations, effective immediately,” and it added that Locast was meant to “operate in accordance with the strict letter of the law,” but had to comply with the ruling, with which it disagreed.

  • A jury of 12 residents of Northern California and five alternates was sworn in on Thursday for the fraud trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder of the blood testing start-up Theranos, which is set to begin next week. Finding jurors who had never heard of Theranos, which collapsed in 2018 after reports that its blood-testing technology did not work as advertised, was a challenge. Scheduling was another issue. The trial is set to last 13 weeks or longer and some jurors were dismissed because they had upcoming surgeries or long-awaited vacations.

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