One of the more interesting numbers in the mixed jobs report for November was the growth in the number of people coming back into the labor force, either with jobs or looking for jobs. Higher wages, especially in the service sector, are helping to bring them back.
The unemployment rate fell, from 4.6 percent to 4.2 percent, even as more people joined the labor force. But while the trend is good, we are still below pre-pandemic numbers on every major indicator.
Some 3.9 million workers are still out of the labor force as a result of COVID. The employment-to-population ratio rose again in November, to 78.8 percent, but is still below its pre-COVID rate of 80.4 percent. Wages are up, especially in retail and hotels, but real wage growth for the economy as a whole still lags inflation.
We are broadly on track to a full recovery by mid- to late 2022, but that is not true of every sector. One chilling statistic in the November jobs report: The number of people employed in education and health services is still 793,000 below its pre-COVID levels.
Some of this is the result of temporary school closures, but most of it reflects the deplorable treatment of nurses, other health workers, and teachers. Nearly 1 in 5 health care workers have simply left the profession, in a pandemic when they are desperately needed.
The fault is not federal policyextra money from ARPA went to the health sector. Its the fault of for-profit hospitals and nursing homes that would prefer profit maximization to adequate staffing ratios. Some teachers have also left their profession as a result of similar workplace frustrations, as schools are expected to adapt to COVID conditions with insufficient resources.
If we were serious about dealing with the consequences of COVID, we would treat nurses and teachers like the heroes they are. Build Back Better needs maximum funding, and we need even more support for frontline workers in education and health.