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Job Growth Slows Down As Some States Wrestle With New Coronavirus Outbreaks


Millions of Americans are going back to work as the nation tries to claw its way out of the deep hole dug by the coronavirus. The Labor Department says the U.S. economy added a record 4.8 million jobs last month. The unemployment rate dropped, although it's still extremely high by historical standards. What's more, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports, those job gains could be fragile, as dozens of states are now wrestling with a surge in coronavirus infections.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Over the last two months, the U.S. has regained about a third of the jobs it lost during March and April, when the pandemic shuttered much of the economy. President Trump, whose own job could be on the line, celebrated the partial turnaround. He told reporters at the White House this morning the economy is, quote, "roaring back."


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In a time that a lot of people would have wilted - they would have wilted. But we didn't wilt, and our country didn't wilt.

HORSLEY: Unemployment, which was near 15% in April, has now dropped to just over 11%. The jobless rate for Latinos is higher, and unemployment among African Americans is the highest of all. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin acknowledged there's still a long way to go.


STEVEN MNUCHIN: Our work won't be done till every single American who lost their job because of COVID gets back to work.

HORSLEY: But with COVID-19 cases now accelerating in much of the United States, there are signs job growth may be tapering off. Today's report from the Labor Department reflects conditions in the middle of June. Dave Gilbertson, who's with the timecard company Kronos, says since then, demand for hourly workers has slowed, especially in places like Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, which has seen a surge in new infections.

DAVE GILBERTSON: Over the past couple weeks, we've seen really a divergence geographically around the country, where the Northeast has kind of continued growing just as quickly as they were before, whereas the Southeast has slowed down their growth quite a bit.

HORSLEY: Forty percent of the jobs added last month were in leisure and hospitality, including 1.5 million jobs in bars and restaurants. Those jobs could be vulnerable, just as they were early in the pandemic, if renewed fears of the coronavirus keep customers away. Karen Schenck tends bar in Tucson, Ariz., another hot spot for the pandemic. Business there has been so slow the last couple of weeks she wonders how the bar's owner can afford to pay for the air conditioning.

KAREN SCHENCK: It's so hard when a boss is trying to do what he can do. He wants to keep his people employed. I think he's been under the impression of if you build it, they will come. And sadly, they're not coming because too many people are still uncomfortable with dining and drinking out.

HORSLEY: Some workers aren't comfortable, either. Laura Carlson worked for a restaurant in Minneapolis that delayed its reopening last month amid the protests over George Floyd's death. Carlson, who worries about getting sick and perhaps infecting her aging parents, is relieved not to have been called back to work.

LAURA CARLSON: I feel like the longer I don't hear from them, the safer my family is going to be. So I'm not forced to make those decisions 'cause it's a very difficult and tough decision to make.

HORSLEY: Carlson says her unemployment benefits just about match what she would have made when she was working. But those benefits are set to drop by $600 a week at the end of this month.

CARLSON: I've talked to some friends who are panicked about that. They're solely dependent on that extra $600 to make rent, to make money. I think it's vitally important that it's extended and prolonged.

HORSLEY: The administration has so far opposed an extension of the supplemental jobless benefits. But Secretary Mnuchin says they will be working with Congress on alternative ways to provide an economic boost. Even as some people are going back to work, another 2.2 million people filed initial claims for unemployment last week. Nevertheless, the president continues to play cheerleader. Trump took credit again today for a rebounding stock market.


TRUMP: This is not just luck, what's happening. This is a lot of talent.

HORSLEY: As for the pandemic that's threatening the recovery, Trump said again this week he hopes it will just disappear.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.