“The virus drives the economics,” said Betsey Stevenson, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama who is now at the University of Michigan. If cases continue to rise, as health officials warn, “we’re not going to have people going back to work,” Ms. Stevenson added.
“In fact, we’re going to see more people staying home,” she said.
The problem is that the longer the public health crisis drags on, the more permanent damage is done to the economy. Total employment has grown the past two months because companies have begun recalling temporarily laid-off workers. But layoffs have continued as the economic effects of the pandemic ripple through the economy, reaching businesses and industries that were spared earlier.
If businesses can’t reopen, or can return only at a fraction of their previous sales, many temporary job losses are likely to become permanent. The number of people reporting they had permanently lost their jobs rose in June even as the number of workers on temporary layoff fell sharply for the second consecutive month.
“We’re going on four months now,” said Olugbenga Ajilore, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress, a progressive group. “There’s only so long that these businesses can hold out before it just doesn’t become feasible.”
The rebound in jobs has not been shared equally across groups. The unemployment rate for white workers has fallen more than four percentage points over the past two months, to 10.1 percent. For Black workers, the jobless rate has fallen just over one point, to 15.4 percent, and the unemployment rate for Black men actually rose in June. Asian workers, too, have seen only small gains. Latinos, hit particularly hard when the pandemic shut down much of the service sector, have had a larger drop in unemployment but their jobless rate remains elevated at 14.5 percent.
The good news is that the strong job gains in May and June suggest that the permanent economic damage so far has been relatively limited, in part because of the trillions of dollars of emergency spending authorized by Congress. Most of those out of work still say they expect to return to their old jobs eventually, and companies are bringing back furloughed workers at a faster rate than many economists predicted a few months ago. June’s gains were concentrated in industries like restaurants and retail that were battered in the first phase of the pandemic, but construction, manufacturing and professional services brought back workers as well.