U.S. added 467,000 jobs in January despite omicron variant surge

The U.S. economy added 467,000 jobs in January as the omicron variant spiked to record heights, with the labor market performing better than many expected two years after the pandemic began.

The unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 4 percent, from 3.9 percent the month before.

The monthly report, released by the Department of Labor, stems from a survey taken in mid-January, around the time the omicron variant was beginning to peak, with close to 1 million new confirmed cases each day. The rapid spread during that period upended many parts of the economy, closing schools, day cares, and a number of businesses, forcing parents to scramble.

But the labor market, according to the new data, performed very well during that stretch.

In addition to the robust January, the Department of Labor also revised upward the figure for December’s jobs report, to 510,000 from 199,000, and November, to 647,000 from 249,000. That means that there were some 700,000 more jobs added at the end of last year than previously estimated — showing a labor market with momentum heading into the new year.

The data sets show a labor market that continues to recover at a strong pace from the pandemic’s worst disruption in March and April of 2020.

New outbreaks and variants have sent shockwaves through the economy since then, but the labor market has continued to return, with companies working to add jobs and wages steadily rising.

The industries experiencing growth in January were lead by the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 151,000 jobs on the month, mostly in restaurants and bars. Professional and business services added 86,000 jobs. Retailers added 61,000 jobs in January, which is typically an off month. Transportation and warehousing added 54,000 jobs.

The labor market’s participation rate, a critical measurement that has never fully recovered from losses during the pandemic’s earliest days, also went up significantly, to 62.2 percent from 61.9 percent. That shows more people are reentering the labor force, looking for work.

Average hourly earnings increased by 23 cents on the month to $31.63, up 5.7 percent over the last year. However, those gains for many people have largely been wiped out by rising prices from inflation.

The data was collected during a tumultuous period. Nearly nine million workers were out sick around the time the survey was taken, and some of them could have been counted as unemployed based on the way the survey is conducted.

January is traditionally a weak month for employment when retail and other industries shed jobs after the holiday season. Economists say that seasonal adjustments made to the survey’s data to account for this have the potential to distort the survey in the other direction, given that the holiday shopping boom appeared to take place earlier this year than typical.

As such, predictions for job growth for the month had been all over the map. Analysts surveyed by Dow Jones predicted an average of about 150,000 jobs added for the month, in what would be the lowest amount added in a year. Some economists predicted job losses, of up to 400,000.

Last year was a strong year for growth in the labor market, with the country adding an average of more than 550,000 jobs a month — regaining some 6.5 million jobs lost in the pandemic’s earlier days, after the Department revised its numbers. The country has about 2.9 million fewer jobs than it had before the pandemic, according to the figures released Friday.

Omicron is going to make it look like things dropped off a cliff in January, but overall they did not,” said Drew Matus, chief market strategist for MetLife Investment Management.

Some economists like Matus say that the prospects for such rapid regrowth are more complicated this year, with the fiscal measures that boosted the economy during the pandemic’s first two years, like generous government aid, and record low interest rates from federal bankers, having largely expired, and the country’s confidence in a virus-free future dented after the winter wave.

Since the rollout of vaccines last year, there have been hopes that a return to a more typical rhythm of life could encourage some of the roughly two million people who have left the labor force during the pandemic to seek work anew, but thus far, continued threats from variants — and uncertainty after more closures of schools, daycares, and office — have prevented this from materializing in a substantial way.

There are signs that the omicron exacted a toll on the economy during its peak.

Weekly unemployment claims swelled mid-month to its highest level since October, though the numbers have come down in the two weeks since. Other statistical markers like passenger traffic at airports, hotel revenues, and dining reservations also took a hit during the month.

Recent months continue to be marked by incredible churn in the labor market, as record numbers of workers are switching jobs. In December, some 4.3 million people quit or changed jobs — a number which was down from an all-time high in November but still at elevated. Employers continue to report near record numbers of job openings: the Bureau of Labor Statistics said they reported some 10.9 million openings last month.

9 hospitals laying off workers

Layoffs are back in NC: Emerson Electric to close facility; Global Brands  cutting jobs | WRAL TechWire

Several hospitals across the U.S. are laying off workers over the next three months. 

Below are nine hospitals and health systems that laid off employees or announced plans to implement layoffs since Oct. 1. 

1. Community Hospital Long Beach (Calif.) plans to lay off 328 employees early next year, according to a notice filed with state regulators. The hospital said the layoffs are set to begin after Jan. 31, 2022, and may come in stages. The layoffs are a result of Community Hospital Long Beach ending acute care and closing its emergency department. 

2. Watsonville (Calif.) Community Hospital is preparing to lay off 677 workers, according to a notice filed with the state Nov. 29. The hospital entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy Dec. 5 and announced a tentative sale agreement with the Pajaro Valley Healthcare District Project. If the sale to the nonprofit group or another buyer is finalized by Jan. 28, all 677 employees will be terminated by Watsonville Community Hospital. CEO Steven Salyer said all potential buyers are being asked to offer employment to the hospital’s workers. If the sale isn’t finalized, the hospital will close after the bankruptcy court authorizes those steps, and all employees would be terminated Jan. 28, according to the notice to the state. Funds made available through the bankruptcy process may allow the hospital to delay the layoffs.

3. Pensacola, Fla.-based Baptist Health Care said in a notice filed with state regulators that it is eliminating 233 jobs in February when it outsources various services to Wayne, Pa.-based Compass One Healthcare. Affected employees were offered positions with Compass One at the same or higher wages, according to the Nov. 22 layoff notice. 

4. West Reading, Pa.-based Tower Health filed a notice in early November with state regulators indicating it would lay off 293 employees by Dec. 31. The health system said the layoffs would affect workers at Jennersville Hospital in West Grove, Pa., which Tower Health was planning to close by the end of the year. In late November, the health system announced it entered into a definitive agreement to sell Jennersville Hospital and another facility to Canyon Atlantic Partners, a hospital management firm based in Austin, Texas. The health system subsequently called off that deal. It plans to close Jennersville Hospital on Dec. 31 and Brandywine Hospital in Coatesville, Pa., on Jan. 31. The closures will result in the loss of more than 800 jobs, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal

5. Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City is laying off 56 workers in February, but affected employees will be offered employment with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, according to a notice filed with the state Nov. 8. The layoffs are due to the integration of electronic medical records systems at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, according to the notice. 

6. Ascension Technologies, the IT subsidiary of St. Louis-based Ascension, outsourced about 330 tech jobs in November, according to a notice filed with the state. Affected employees could apply for other positions within Ascension Technologies or with the new vendor that took over the tech support for application and platforms, collaboration and end-user engineering, network and telecom and field services areas.

7. Middletown, N.Y.-based Garnet Health laid off 66 workers Oct. 29 when it closed its skilled nursing unit, according to a notice filed with the state. 

8. Kindred Hospital Northwest Indiana, a 70-bed long-term acute care hospital in Hammond, is closing, resulting in 110 layoffs, according to a notice filed with the state in August. The layoffs started Oct. 10. Kindred said the closure is a result of Mishawaka, Ind.-based Franciscan Health’s decision to downsize its Hammond hospital, a move that will eliminate Kindred’s space on the campus. 

9. Garland (Texas) Behavioral Hospital, part of King of Prussia, Pa.-based Universal Health Services, is closing and laying off its 119 employees, according to the Dallas Morning News. The layoffs started Oct. 7, according to a notice filed with the state. 

Jobless claims plunge to 199K, lowest level since 1969

https://thehill.com/policy/finance/582950-jobless-claims-plunge-to-199k-lowest-level-since-1969

For the 1st time during the pandemic, initial UI claims have dipped below pre-crisis levels, falling to 199,000 (vs the Feb 2020 avg: 211,700). Layoffs are hitting new lows amid ongoing labor shortages as employers look to hold onto hard-to-find workers.

New weekly claims for jobless aid plunged to the lowest level in more than 50 years last week, according to data released Wednesday by the Labor Department.

In the week ending Nov. 20, there were 199,000 initial applications for unemployment insurance, according to the seasonally adjusted figures, a decline of 71,000 from the previous week. Claims fell to the lowest level since November 1969 and are now well below the pre-pandemic trough of 225,000 applications received the week of March 14, 2020.

The steep drop in unemployment applications comes after several strong months of job growth and rising consumer spending heading into the holiday shopping season. While high inflation has stressed many household budgets, U.S. job growth, economic production, stock values and corporate profits have all steamed ahead.

“Getting new claims below the 200,000 level for the first time since the pandemic began is truly significant, portraying further improvement,” said Mark Hamrick, chief economic analyst at Bankrate.com.

“The strains associated with higher prices, shortages of supplies and available job candidates are weighed against low levels of layoffs, wage gains and a falling unemployment rate,” he continued. “Growth will likely be above par for the foreseeable future, but within the context of historically high inflation which should relax its grip on the economy to some degree in the year ahead.”

The U.S. added 531,000 jobs in October and job growth in the previous months was revised substantially higher after a string of what first appeared to be meager gains. While businesses have struggled to hire enough workers to meet surging consumer demand, the decline in jobless claims appears to be a sign of an improving labor market.

“Layoffs are hitting new lows amid ongoing labor shortages as employers look to hold onto hard-to-find workers,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, in a Wednesday thread on Twitter.

Even so, Zhao said the sharp decline below pre-pandemic levels may have been due to a lower than expected seasonal impact on hiring.

“As you can see from the above chart, this is in part due to the seasonal adjustment expecting a much larger jump in non-seasonally adjusted claims, so this dip below pre-crisis levels may be short-lived,” he explained.

Unemployment claims jumped to 419,000 last week, a sudden increase reflecting an unsettled labor market

Unemployment claims jumped last week, as the delta variant of the coronavirus sparked rising caseloads around the country and renewed fears about the potential for more restrictions and business closures.

The number of new claims grew to 419,000 from 368,000, the third time in six weeks that they had ticked up, according to data from the Department of Labor.

Economists said the uptick was concerning but cautioned that it was too early to tell whether it was a one week aberration or telegraphed a more concerning turn for the labor market.

“The unexpected bump in claims could be noise in the system, but it’s also not hard to see how the rise of the covid-19 delta variant could add thousands of layoffs to numbers that already are double what they were pre-Covid,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union.

Overall, unemployment numbers have been falling gradually from the peaks at other stages of the pandemic, but they are still well above pre-pandemic averages.

The jobless numbers have provided a jarring catalogue about the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic — spiking to records as the pandemic unfolded in March 2020, and remaining at historic high levels throughout most of 2020.

The coronavirus surge last fall helped precipitate a rise in claims that saw the labor market, as seen in the monthly jobs report, slide backward too.

But until recently, the last few months been marked by strong jobs growth and a sense of optimism as vaccinations picked up, giving economists hope that the country was back on track to recovering the nearly 7 million jobs it is still down from before the pandemic.

Now, the delta variant is driving an alarming increase in covid-19 cases around the country, according to public health officials: the number of new cases increased more than 40 percent in the last week, sending jitters through the stock market, and is raising questions about whether state and local health authorities will reinstitute restrictions to slow the virus’ spread.

A new mandate in Los Angeles county to wear masks indoors has sparked protests and anger from local officials, as other counties where cases are increasing mull similar actions.

Frick said that the report showed the potential for unemployment claims to start trending upward after months of steady declines.

“There’s definitely a correlation, however loose, that the rise in covid does cause a rise in claims,” he said. “My fear is that the rise in the delta variant could cause claims to go back up…Certainly one week doesn’t show that. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see claims rise.”

Texas for example, where cases have grown 54 percent in the last week, lead the way with an increase of 10,000 new claims.

However, there are also lots of signs that the economy continues to rebound despite rising caseloads.

The more than 2.2 million people that the Transportation Security Administration said it screened at airports on Sunday was the most since late February 2020 — and nearly three times the amount it was on the same day last year.

Restaurant dining has largely rebounded in recent months, at times surpassing the levels from before the pandemic — on Saturday the number of diners was 1 percent higher than the same day in 2019, according to data from Open Table.

Last week, some 12.5 million claims were filed for unemployment insurance overall, according to the most recent numbers — down from 32.9 million filed at the same point last year.

Nevada, Rhode Island and California topped the list of states with the highest number of people on unemployment, the Labor Department said.

Economic concerns in recent months have been more focused on the ways that workers are still held back from filling some of the more than 9 million job openings in the country, than unemployment, with high hopes that school re-openings in the fall will help many parents get back into the labor force.

Pay cut forces Health Partners to lay off 560 workers

When layoffs become inevitable: The painful story

Health Partners, one of the largest home healthcare providers in Michigan, laid off 560 employees at the beginning of July, including nurses, nursing assistants, therapists and direct care workers, according to Crain’s Detroit Business

The layoffs occurred July 1 and happened as the Bingham Farms-based company is winding down business. The job losses are attributed to a 2019 state law capping Health Partners’ payment rates at 55 percent of what it bills insurance companies to care for injured motorists, said Chad Livengood, a senior editor at Crain’s Detroit Business

Health Partners owner John G. Prosser II, who has been in the home health business for decades, said the company couldn’t absorb the losses from the new fee schedule, which cuts payments by 45 percent, according to Crain’s

Other home healthcare companies in Michigan haven’t met the same fate as Health Partners because they rely more heavily on Medicaid, workers’ compensation insurance or private payers, according to the report. 

Read more here

7 hospitals laying off workers

RTI International furloughs roughly 1,200 employees across U.S. | WRAL  TechWire

Many U.S. hospitals are turning to layoffs to cut costs as they recover from the financial hit of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Here are seven hospitals or health systems that recently announced layoffs or job cuts:

1. Mishawaka, Ind.-based Franciscan Health will lay off 83 employees of its 100-year-old hospital in Hammond, Ind., according to a notice filed with the state. The layoff notice comes as the health system works to shrink the 226-bed Franciscan Health Hammond Hospital to an eight-bed acute care facility with an emergency department and primary care practice. The layoffs are slated to begin Aug. 21 and will be permanent, the health system said.

2. HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley, a three-hospital system in the Westchester Medical Center Health Network, laid off an undisclosed number of workers June 14. Westchester Medical Center Health Network in Valhalla, N.Y., said it laid off HealthAlliance hospital employees in Kingston, N.Y., to eliminate redundancies as it begins to consolidate inpatient services to one location.

3. As part of a financial restructuring plan, Sacramento, Calif.-based Sutter Health will issue another round of layoffs this year. The health system said in early June it plans to lay off 400 employees. These newly announced layoffs are in addition to 277 information technology jobs that were cut April 2. Sutter said most of the new layoffs affect employees in administrative positions in benefits, human resources, data services and accounting. The layoff notice said many of these employees were working remotely or in the field. 

4. A little over a month after filing a notice to complete about 651 layoffs this year, Ascension Technologies, the IT subsidiary of St. Louis-based Ascension, eliminated 92 remote IT jobs in Indiana, according to a June 3 report. Most of the laid-off employees are based in Indianapolis and Evansville, Ind., the Indiana Department of Workforce Development said June 2

5. Lawrence (Mass.) General Hospital plans to lay off 56 employees and is warning of more cuts unless it receives government aid quickly, according to a May 25 report. The layoffs will affect employees working in administration and patient care. The layoffs affect about 2.5 percent of the 186-bed hospital’s workforce. Lawrence General attributed the layoffs to the COVID-19 pandemic weakening its financial profile. 

6. Boca Raton, Fla.-based Cancer Treatment Centers of America closed its hospital in Tulsa, Okla. About 400 employees will be affected by the closure. The hospital saw its last patient on May 27

7. Boca Raton, Fla.-based Cancer Treatment Centers of America is selling its hospital in Philadelphia and will lay off the facility’s 365 employees, according to a closure notice filed with the state. The cancer care network said it anticipates the layoffs in Philadelphia will begin after May 30.

June 2021 Health Sector Economic Indicator Briefs

https://altarum.org/publications/june-2021-health-sector-economic-indicator-briefs

Altarum

Economic Indicators | June 17, 2021

Altarum’s monthly Health Sector Economic Indicators (HSEI) briefs analyze the most recent data available on health sector spending, prices, employment, and utilization. Support for this work is provided by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Below are highlights from the June 2021 briefs

National health spending growth reflects rebound from COVID-19

  • National health spending in April 2021 was 32.4% higher than in April 2020, reflecting the recovery from the lowest month in spending since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Since January 2020, before the pandemic-induced drop began, net growth in national health spending was 1.5% through April 2021.
  • The magnitude of the drop and subsequent recovery has varied by category of spending, with only spending on home health care, prescription drugs, and hospital care reaching levels in April 2021 that exceeded their January 2020 levels.
  • The recovery in spending on dental services continues to lag all other categories, remaining 14.6% below its January 2020 level.

Health care price growth remains stable amid economywide inflation

  • Growth in the overall Health Care Price Index (HCPI) remained mostly steady in May, with prices 2.0% higher than they were a year ago, compared to the 1.9% growth seen in April. The 2.0% rate is below the average since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, indicating a slight moderation in health care prices.
  • Hospital and physician services prices continue to be the two fastest growing major categories, increasing 3.6% and 3.1% year over year respectively, while nursing home facility and home health care price growth has slowed significantly over the past few months, now up only 2.1% and 1.5% respectively in May.
  • Outside of health care, economywide price growth, as measured by both the consumer price index (CPI) and producer price index (PPI), continued to accelerate, with those measures increasing to 5.0% and 6.6% growth in May. This is the fastest growth for economywide CPI since 2008 and the fastest ever in the series for PPI.
  • As expected, the GDP Deflator (GDPD), which lags a month behind other price data, was significantly higher in April at 3.7%, marking the first time it exceeded health care price growth since September 2019.

Health employment up modestly in May, returning to the December 2020 level

  • Health care added a modest 22,500 jobs in May, mostly in ambulatory care settings. Revisions to March and April took health care jobs up slightly but did not significantly change the story.
  • Health care employment has slowly regained the 80,000 jobs dropped in January 2021 and is now at the level it was at the end of 2020 (15.98 million jobs). The sector remains about 500,000 jobs, or 3.1%, below where it was in February 2020, with a big part of the drop in residential care settings. Additionally, neither hospitals nor ambulatory settings (as a whole) are fully back to pre-pandemic employment.
  • After dropping 35,000 jobs in January 2021, hospital employment has been little changed, with job losses and gains of a few thousand jobs per month in February through May 2021. Hospital employment is 28,000 jobs below where it stood at the end of 2020 and 90,000 jobs, or 1.7%, below the pre-pandemic peak.
  • Nursing and residential care employment continued to fall in May, losing 2,400 jobs. Residential care settings are down 340,000 jobs, or 12.7%, since February 2020, losing jobs in all but one month over that period.
  • The economy added 559,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 5.8%. We have added 2.4 million jobs so far in 2021 but remain 7.6 million jobs (5%) below the level of employment in February 2020.