Health care contributes as jobless rate inches downward in July

Sector still not at February 2020 levels and COVID-19 pandemic has lingering economic effects.

U.S. unemployment dipped to 3.5% for July, the lowest in more than 50 years, according to the latest jobs report and commentary from the White House.

Nationally, employment rose by 528,000 last month, with gains in health care, leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services, according to the July Employment Situation Summary from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The number of unemployed workers was estimated at 5.7 million, and the jobless rate measurements returned to levels in February 2020, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health care employment

Despite gains in several areas of health care, overall employment in that sector remains below the February 2020 level by 78,000 workers, or 0.5%, the BLS report said.

Even so, health care added 69,600 jobs in July, rising to more than 16.41 million jobs across the sector. Ambulatory health care services added 47,300 jobs for a total of more than 8.2 million positions. Physicians’ offices added 12,800 jobs, creeping up to more than 2.83 million total jobs.

Offices of other health practitioners added 16,000 jobs, rising to a total of more than 1.09 million, while outpatient care centers added 5,700 jobs for a total of more than 1.02 million. Medical and diagnostic laboratory jobs were stable month to month at about 314,000 jobs, and other ambulatory health care services posted the only decline in the sector, losing an estimated 400 jobs to drop to 316,700 workers.

Pandemic lingers

Last month, 2.2 million people reported they were unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 548,000 were prevented from looking for work due to the pandemic. Both figures were “little changed from the prior month,” with BLS did not offer an explanation.

In July, leisure and hospitality added 96,000 jobs, as growth continued in food services and drinking places that added more than 74,000 positions. That sector remains below February employment levels by 1.2 million, or 7.1%.

Professional and business services added 89,000 jobs in July, with gains in management, architecture and engineering, management and technical consulting, and scientific research and development. That sector had 986,000 more jobs in July than in February 2020, according to BLS.

President comments

The White House issued a statement by President Joe Biden responding to the jobs report.

“Today, the unemployment rate matches the lowest it’s been in more than 50 years: 3.5%,” the statement said. “More people are working than at any point in American history. That’s millions of families with the dignity and peace of mind that a paycheck provides.

“And, it’s the result of my economic plan to build the economy from the bottom up and middle out,” the president’s statement said. “I ran for president to rebuild the middle class – there’s more work to do, but today’s jobs report shows we are making significant progress for working families.”