The US economy is accelerating again after a speed bump over the coronavirus late last year, but what is missing is a large increase in the number of hires and people returning to work.
First the good news.
Consumer spending soared in January, and incomes rose even faster thanks to government stimulus controls of $ 600 and more generous unemployment benefits. Sales of new homes also shot up again and are nearing a 14-year high. And manufacturers increased production and investment for the ninth straight month.
But so far, the economic recovery has not translated into faster hires – no thanks to a record spike in coronavirus cases during the winter.
The economy lost jobs in December and barely regained in January, leaving more than 10 million people working before the pandemic unable to make a living.
Almost as badly, about 1 million new claims for unemployment benefits are submitted to the state and federal programs every week.
"I think the economy is getting better," said Regions Financial chief economist Richard Moody, "but the job market is still the biggest gap."
See: A visual look at how an unfair pandemic has changed work and life
However, things seem to be looking up.
The number of hires will almost certainly increase again as coronavirus vaccines roll out, the weather warms, more government funding floods the economy and companies in the service sector are allowed to reopen more fully.
Many companies will have to fill many jobs to meet the expected rise in pent-up demand, especially service-oriented businesses such as restaurants, hotels, airlines and entertainment venues most affected by the pandemic.
Many economists think the recruitment recruitment started in February. Wall Street
predicts an increase of 150,000 new jobs in the U.S. Labor Department's employment report next Friday, although estimates vary widely.
See: MarketWatch Economic Calendar
Winter storms and the Texas power outages may act as a brake, but those events occurred later in the month after the government largely completed its February employment report survey.
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The official unemployment rate, meanwhile, is hard to take seriously. The current rate of 6.3% is generally believed to underestimate actual unemployment by as much as four percentage points.
The pandemic has made it more difficult for the government to collect accurate data, a problem that has not disappeared. The Federal Reserve's own unofficial estimate, on the other hand, brings the unemployment rate closer to 10%.
The most important figures to keep an eye on are the number of unemployed people and the size of the labor force.
In January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said 10.1 million people were unemployed, but that figure has barely changed in the past three months.
The size of the workforce has shrunk by 4.2 million to around 160 million since the start of the pandemic. That's 4.2 million people who have basically lost all hope of getting a job and aren't even looking.
The number of unemployed must start to decline rapidly and the size of the labor force must increase significantly before the economy can really heal.
The Biden administration hopes to speed up the process with a pending stimulus plan that could go up to $ 2 trillion, including an additional $ 1,400 for most families.
"One cannot deny the powerful impact that trillions of dollars in federal spending has on consumers' willingness and ability to spend," said Bank of the West chief economist Scott Anderson.