Broad-based strength in hiring in October signals the economy is shaking off the Covid-related slump of the third quarter and could grow faster than expected in the fourth quarter.
Employment increased by 531,000 in the month, with gains in many categories, including manufacturing, hospitality, professional and business services. The unemployment rate fell to 4.6%. Revisions to prior months’ data also added a total of 235,000 more payrolls in August and September.
“We’re reaccelerating as the delta wave abates and given the revisions, we’ve weathered the storm,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. “It suppressed spending as people were afraid of the contagion during the delta wave, but it didn’t derail underlying employment, and now we’re picking up again.”
The economy slowed in the third quarter, as supply chain disruptions and Covid hampered activity. Gross domestic product grew by just 2%. Swonk had expected growth of 5% in the fourth quarter, but now she says it could be higher.
“It could be a little stronger with these numbers. There’s no question we’re going to end on a high note,” she said.
Economists had expected 450,000 jobs were created in October, up from September’s revised 312,000. There were some disappointments, including a decline in local and state government education jobs of nearly 65,000. Labor force participation also did not make expected gains and was unchanged at 61.6%.
But overall, economists saw the report as positive. “These numbers were great. The private sector is picking up the baton from the public sector,” said Swonk.
“The education losses really reflect the inability of schools to lure back staff workers and deal with the tsunami of retirements,” she added. “Public sector wages are just not going up at the pace of private sector. There’s no way they can compete. They really need to raise wages. These are low-paid jobs that are now competing with Amazon and Walmart.”
Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays, said the employment report shows the economy is back on track after the dip in third-quarter growth. “We’re not going to see what we saw in the first half of the year, but we’re not a 2% economy,” he said.
Wages continued to rise sharply, the latest sign that inflationary pressures are not abating. Gains in average hourly wages were again elevated, rising by 0.4% from the prior month, or 4.9% over the past 12 months.
While the wage component was hot and job growth strong, economists say the report does not change the dynamic yet for the Federal Reserve. However, a few more months of strong jobs growth could cause the central bank to reassess its timetable on winding down its bond program.
The Fed announced Wednesday that it would begin paring its bond purchases, ending the $120 billion monthly program by the middle of next year. Swonk expects the Fed will begin raising interest rates once it ends the program. She said the central bank could re-evaluate its timetable when it meets in December, if job growth remains strong.
Inflation is also a concern of the Fed. A worsening outlook for inflation could also lead policymakers to act faster to end the bond purchases, and begin battling high prices with higher interest rates, economists said.
Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont, notes the Fed could be forced to adjust its timing. “A few more reports like this one will bring the economy within hailing distance of full employment. This report is a significant step toward the [Federal Open Market Committee] needing to accelerate the pace of tapering early next year and ultimately having to raise rates earlier than policy makers currently anticipate,” he wrote, adding he expects the Fed to begin hiking interest rates in June.
Economists say the fact that job growth was broad-based was a positive for the economic reopening.
Professional and business services added 100,000 jobs, while manufacturing was also strong with a 60,000 gain. Transportation and warehousing workers increased by 54,400 and retail employment grew by 35,300. Construction jobs increased by 44,000.
Employment in leisure and hospitality increased by 164,000 and is now up 2.4 million in 2021. But the sector is still down 1.4 million jobs, or 8.2%, compared to February 2020.