By Lucia Mutikani
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. job growth accelerated in June, offering tentative signs that a worker shortage could be starting to ease as companies raise wages and offer incentives to entice millions of unemployed Americans sitting at home.
The Labor Department’s closely watched employment report on Friday also showed just over 150,000 people entered the labor force last month. The report suggested the economy ended the second quarter with strong growth momentum, following a reopening made possible by vaccinations against COVID-19.
Still, employment gains remained less than the million or more per month that economists and others had been forecasting at the beginning of the year.
“This may be a sign that some of the temporary labor shortages holding back the employment recovery are starting to ease,” said Andrew Hunter, a senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics.
Nonfarm payrolls increased by 850,000 jobs last month after rising 583,000 in May. That left employment 6.8 million jobs below its peak in February 2020. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls advancing by 700,000 jobs. There are a record 9.3 million job openings.
The leisure and hospitality industry added 343,000 jobs, accounting for 40% of the employment gains in June. More than 150 million people are fully immunized, leading to pandemic-related restrictions on businesses and mask mandates being lifted. Government employment jumped by 188,000 jobs, driven by state and local government education. End of school year layoffs were fewer relative to the previous year.
Manufacturing added a modest 15,000 jobs. Factories are struggling with rampant worker shortages as well as scarce raw materials, which are forcing some to cut production.
Construction payrolls contracted again last month. Though the sector remains supported by robust demand for housing, expensive lumber is hampering homebuilding.
Politicians, businesses and some economists have blamed enhanced unemployment benefits, including a $300 weekly check from the government, for the labor crunch. Lack of affordable child care and fears of contracting the coronavirus have also been blamed for keeping workers, mostly women, at home.
There have also been pandemic-related retirements as well as career changes. Economists generally expect the labor supply squeeze to ease in the fall as schools reopen and the government-funded unemployment benefits lapse but caution many unemployed will probably never return to work.
Record-high stock prices and surging home values have also encouraged early retirements.
U.S. stocks opened higher on the data. The dollar fell against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices rose.
Average hourly earnings rose 0.3% last month after gaining 0.4% in May. That raised the year-on-year increase in wages to 3.6% from 1.9% in May. Annual wage growth was in part flattered by so-called base effects following a big drop last June.
According to job search engine Indeed, 4.1% of jobs postings advertised hiring incentives through the seven days ending June 18, more than double the 1.8% share in the week ending July 1, 2020. The incentives, which included signing bonuses, retention bonuses or one-time cash payments on being hired, ranged from as low as $100 to as high as $30,000 in the month ended June 18.
Some restaurant jobs are paying as much as $27 per hour plus tips, according to postings on Poachedjobs.com, a national job board for the restaurant/hospitality industry. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, but is higher in some states.
With employment not expected to return to its pre-pandemic level until sometime in 2022, rising wages are unlikely to worry Federal Reserve officials even as inflation is heating up because of supply constraints. Fed Chair Jerome Powell has repeatedly stated he expects high inflation will be transitory.
The U.S. central bank last month opened talks on how to end its crisis-era massive bond-buying.
Though the unemployment rate rose to 5.9% from 5.8% in May, that was because 151,000 people entered the labor force. The jobless rate continued to be understated by people misclassifying themselves as being “employed but absent from work.” Without this misclassification, the unemployment rate would have been 6.1% in June.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Dan Burns, Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)