The U.S. economy added just 194,000 jobs in September, the Department of Labor reported Friday, a disappointing month that reflects how severely the delta variant is hampering the country’s recovery.
The unemployment rate dropped to 4.8 percent from 5.2 percent in August. The data is a snapshot of the economy from the second week of September, when daily coronavirus cases were still near the peak caused by the delta variant.
Economists had been hoping for robust jobs growth in September, as school reopenings allowed parents who left work to care for children earlier in the pandemic returned to the labor force.
But that sunny outlook has been challenged in recent months, as the delta variant’s surge — and large pockets of resistance to get the vaccine — have raised questions about the country’s ability to stage a speedy recovery.
“Delta turned it on the ear,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. “We’d like it to be that easy. But nothing has been easy in the pandemic. The challenges are still substantial to gettin people back.”
Swonk and other economists said that Hurricane Ida, which battered the mid-Atlantic and Northeast in late August and early September, around the time the Labor Department took the survey, had also dampened the report.
There were other signs of the drag the delta variant was having on the economy in September.
Weekly unemployment claims rose for three straight weeks, before falling last week. And restaurant reservations, which had begun returning to pre-pandemic levels according to data from Open Table, took a dive.