Economic Indicators | Jobs and Unemployment

News from EPI December jobs report provides a clear picture of Trump’s failed handling of the economy

Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the last jobs report of 2020, which is also the last jobs report we will receive while Trump is president—a presidency that has ushered in tragedies ranging from historic job losses to armed insurrection. The report showed that jobs fell by 140,000 in December—an unequivocal disaster for the state of the economic recovery. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the inadequate federal response, job growth waned throughout the fall and fell outright in December. The year ends with 9.8 million fewer jobs than before the pandemic recession hit in February and 546,000 fewer jobs than at the start of Trump’s presidency in January 2016.

  • Holiday hiring didn’t pick up enough to make up for other factors dragging down job growth. Employment declined in leisure and hospitality, a fall of 498,000 jobs. That sector remains 3.9 million jobs below where it was before the pandemic recession hit. State and local government employment continued to decline for four months in a row in December and is now experiencing a shortfall of 1.4 million from pre-pandemic conditions. About three-quarters of these losses—over 1 million jobs—are in education.
  • The third wave of COVID-19 has meant rising caseloads, hospitalizations, and deaths, and reshuttering of many businesses. The number of workers on temporary layoffs has increased for the first time since April, rising by 277,00 between November and December.
  • The overall unemployment rate remained at 6.7% in December, but this is not hitting all workers equally. In December, Black unemployment improved but remains elevated at 9.9%, just below the worst overall unemployment rate of the Great Recession (peak at 10.0%). Hispanic unemployment experienced a significant increase, from 8.4% to 9.3%. White unemployment is now at 6.0%, while Asian unemployment fell to 5.9%.
  • Long-term unemployment (27 weeks and over) continues to rise, increasing by 27,000 in December. The share of the unemployed who have been unemployed at least 27 weeks is now at 37.1%. The latest congressional relief bill is an important step toward addressing some of this pain by extending unemployment insurance, but it is not at the scale of the problem. Without additional relief, millions of workers will exhaust the extended benefits in mid-March.
  • The data show that it is far from true that “everyone” is working from home because of the pandemic. Only 23.7% of employed people report having teleworked or worked at home in the last four weeks because of the pandemic—less than one in four workers.

President-elect Biden will inherit an economy that has been decimated by Trump, who not only presided over outright job losses during his tenure, but also enacted a litany of anti-worker policy decisions and squandered the labor market strength he inherited. Hopefully, the economy will get more desperately needed support in 2021 from the new Congress. Their top priorities must be aid to state and local governments and further extensions of unemployment insurance.


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