The American economyâ€™s health â€” and the impact of the latest coronavirus surge â€” will come into sharper focus Friday morning when the government releases data on hiring and employment in August.
The Labor Department is expected to report a gain of 725,000 jobs, according to economists polled by Bloomberg, a bit slower than the rip-roaring pace of more than 900,000 recorded in June and July, but a healthy gain by most measures.
Still, with the Delta variant of the coronavirus bringing new restrictions in many parts of the country, a slowdown in some of the fastest-growing industries, like leisure and hospitality, is possible. Dining out and travel boomed in early summer as Americans emerged from more than a year of lockdowns, and experts are watching for a retreat.
â€œDelta is a game-changer,â€ said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, an accounting firm in Chicago. â€œItâ€™s not that people are laying off workers in reaction to Delta. But people are pulling back on travel and tourism and going out to eat, and that has consequences.â€
Restaurant reservations on OpenTable were close to normal levels earlier in the summer, but are now 10 percent below where they were before the pandemic. There has also been a sharp decline in hours worked at restaurants and entertainment venues, according to data from Homebase, which provides time-management software to small businesses.
The data being reported Friday was collected in the second week of August, so it may not reflect the full extent of the Delta spread or the impact of Hurricanes Henri and Ida in the second half of the month.
Supply chain disruptions and a lack of parts like semiconductors have upended production for automakers and other manufacturers. At the same time, employers have complained about a shortage of job candidates, and wages among lower-paid employees have jumped. Walmart announced Thursday that it was raising hourly pay for more than half a million workers.
For the nearly nine million Americans who are out of work, robust hiring is essential if unemployment is to drop from its July level of 5.4 percent to the 3.5 percent rate that prevailed before the pandemic. The plight of the jobless is compounded by the expiration of federally funded unemployment benefits after this week, which will affect an estimated 7.5 million people.