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Pandemic took a toll on U.S. job growth over the summer

"This report is a glance in the rearview mirror," one economist said. "There should be some optimism that there should be a reacceleration in October."
Booming U.S. Recovery Is Leaving Some Communities Completely Behind
A "We're Hiring" sign in the window of a tea bar in San Gabriel, Calif., on March 23, 2021.Jessica Pons / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Expectations heading into this morning showed projections of about 500,000 new jobs added in the United States in September. As it turns out, according to the new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the preliminary tally suggests the economy fell far short of those hopes.

The U.S. economy created jobs at a much slower pace than expected pace in September.... Nonfarm payrolls rose by just 194,000 in the month, compared to the Dow Jones estimate of 500,000, the Labor Department reported Friday. The unemployment rate fell to 4.8%, against the expectation for 5.1%.

As disappointing as September's totals were, the revisions from the last couple of months were quite encouraging: totals from July and August were both revised up significantly, and the combined changes reflected an additional 169,000 previously unreported new jobs -- on top of the preliminary total from September.

I emphasize this because today's discouraging number may yet look a lot better after upcoming revisions.

There's also the national context to consider: The New York Times noted this morning:

The data being released on Friday was collected in mid-September, when the Delta wave was near its peak. Since then, cases and hospitalizations have fallen in much of the country, and more timely data from private-sector sources suggests that economic activity has begun to rebound. If those trends continue, job growth could approach its pre-Delta pace later this fall.

"This report is a glance in the rearview mirror," Daniel Zhao, an economist at the career site Glassdoor told the Times. "There should be some optimism that there should be a reacceleration in October."

Ordinarily, I run a chart at the bottom of posts about the monthly jobs reports, but the job losses at the start of the pandemic were so severe, it's rendered the image largely meaningless. I'm retooling it in the hopes of making it useful again.

Update: The closer one looks at today's data, the less disappointing the numbers appear. The New York Times' Neil Irwin concluded that the new jobs report is "pretty good, actually."