Economists are expecting another big monthly jump in hiring when the Labor Department releases its April jobs report Friday morning. Forecasters surveyed by Bloomberg estimate that payrolls grew by 978,000 last month and that the unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent from 6 percent.
As coronavirus infections ebb, vaccinations spread, restrictions lift and businesses reopen, the labor market has been healing. The March gain, subject to revision on Friday, was 916,000.
“Recovery in employment will come in fits and starts,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton. “But we’re going to see a lot of strong gains this year.”
Mall traffic has picked up, Ms. Swonk said, but manufacturing may be hobbled by bottlenecks in the supply chain. Restaurants, hotels and travel are coming back online, she said, but it is unclear whether the job increases in those industries will exceed the seasonal gains typical at this time of year.
The economy still has a lot of ground to recover before returning to prepandemic levels. In March, there were roughly 8.4 million fewer jobs than in February 2020, and the labor force has shrunk.
Employers, particularly in the restaurant and hospitality industry, have reported scant response to help-wanted ads. Several have blamed what they call overly generous government jobless benefits, including a temporary $300-a-week federal stipend that was part of an emergency pandemic relief program.
But the most solid evidence of a real shortage of workers, many economists say, would be rising wages. And that is not happening in a sustained way. As Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said at a news conference last week: “We don’t see wages moving up yet. And presumably we would see that in a really tight labor market.”
Millions of Americans have said that health concerns and child care responsibilities — with many schools and day care centers not back to normal operations — have kept them from returning to work. Millions of others who are not actively job hunting are considered on temporary layoff and expect to be hired back by their previous employers once more businesses reopen fully.
The good news, said Robert Rosener, a senior U.S. economist at Morgan Stanley, is that the choppiness in the labor market that results from successive rounds of openings and closings seems to be easing. “People are going back to work and are more likely to stay at work,” he said.