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The U.S. Saw Its Biggest Gain In Jobs Since Last Summer

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

You may be getting ready to get together with friends and family tomorrow, maybe bring a dish for the cookout and wear something new. Americans are getting out again - shopping, dining out, taking vacations. And all of that is creating a need for more workers. The Labor Department reports U.S. employers added 850,000 jobs last month, the biggest gain since last summer. That's progress, but it would take eight more months just like that to recover all the jobs lost last year. NPR chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley joins us now. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, Scott, what does this jobs report tell us about the economy?

HORSLEY: It tells us that the recovery is speeding up. We added more jobs in June than we did in May, more in May than in April. As you said, consumers are eager to get back to doing the things they did before the pandemic, and that's generating a lot of demand for workers. But there aren't as many people taking jobs right now as you might expect given the millions who are still out of work. A lot of employers say they're finding it challenging to hire as many people as they'd like. And workers, somewhat surprisingly, are finding they have a little more bargaining power. President Biden said yesterday, that's a good thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Instead of workers competing with each other for jobs that are scarce, employers are competing with each other to attract workers. That kind of competition in the market doesn't just give workers more ability to earn higher wages, it also gives them the power to demand to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace.

HORSLEY: Overall, wage gains are still pretty modest, about 3.5% over the last year in the private sector. But in certain industries like leisure and hospitality, wages are climbing twice that fast.

FADEL: So this is good news for the workers. But what's driving that bargaining power?

HORSLEY: Well, the leisure and hospitality industry has been a bellwether throughout the pandemic. It suffered the biggest job losses when the virus was raging and people stopped going to restaurants or staying at hotels. Now that the public health picture has improved dramatically, business has come roaring back, but a chunk of the workforce has not. Bars and restaurants did add nearly 200,000 jobs last month, but the industry is still short 1.3 million jobs from where it was before the pandemic. Laurie Torres, who owns Mallorca restaurant in downtown Cleveland, says she's offering $17 an hour for dishwashers, but she's not getting a lot of takers.

LAURIE TORRES: I lost my dishwasher three days in a row because I scheduled, like, three different people to come in and do dishes, and none of them showed up.

HORSLEY: Because of short staffing, Torres says she's having to close the restaurant an hour or two earlier each night. She's closed entirely on Mondays now. And even though most years she's open on the Fourth of July, she's closing tomorrow to give her staff a break.

FADEL: So if millions of people who lost jobs during the pandemic are still out of work, why are employers having such trouble finding people to hire?

HORSLEY: There are a lot of different explanations. Some of this is just a question of timing. Lots of businesses are trying to hire all at once, and that creates a bit of a traffic jam. Child care is still a problem for many parents, although that should get better when schools reopen in the fall. Also, the U.S. added 25,000 child care jobs last month, so that should help a bit. Some employers are counting on the expiration of enhanced unemployment benefits to push people back to work. But, you know, the pandemic has also given a lot of people the opportunity to think about what kind of work they want to do and what they don't want to do. Torres thinks the restaurant industry will be one of the last to be fully staffed. A lot of former restaurant workers have left for good, and she understands that there are easier ways to make a living.

TORRES: When you're in the service industry, you don't have Saturday night dates because you're serving other people's Saturday night dates. You don't have holidays because you're serving other people when they have those things.

HORSLEY: And other industries are also going to have to rethink how they can be more attractive to employees, whether that means offering more money or better conditions.

FADEL: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Thanks, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.