The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion We’re in the midst of a ‘great return to work.’ It’s worth celebrating.

Two women walk past a "now hiring" sign outside a Chipotle restaurant in Arlington on June 3. (Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

The biggest vote of confidence in the U.S. economy is business continuing to hire at a strong rate and Americans continuing to return to work. The United States added back 390,000 jobs in May, once again beating expectations. Nearly every industry saw net employment gains, except for the retail sector. And more and more Americans are looking for jobs again — and getting them.

The past year has been dubbed the “Great Resignation” due to tens of millions of people quitting their jobs and, usually, finding another one quickly with higher pay or better work-life balance. But the past year could just as easily be called the “Great Return to Work.”

More than 6.5 million jobs have come back in the past year, one of the greatest employment rebounds in U.S. history. Women and minorities have made especially large gains. For all the concerns about the "She-cession" early in the pandemic, women have come surging back into the workforce in recent months, especially as schools and day cares have reopened. Women’s labor force participation, especially for ages 25 to 54, has now recovered as much as men’s. And the share of African Americans working is almost back at a two-decade high.

The massive return to work was somewhat predictable as the economy reopened and many Americans were vaccinated against the coronavirus. As the risks receded, people felt safer to venture out again for work and fun activities. But the pace of the job recovery — and its enduring strength — have exceeded many forecasters’ expectations. Nearly every town has visible “we’re hiring” signs, and there are nearly two job openings for every unemployed American. This is largely due to the historic $5 trillion in aid the federal government sent out during the crisis. All that extra cash fueled buying sprees that led to record corporate profits and record numbers of job openings.

There have been clear problems with all the aid payments. The most obvious is inflation at a 40-year high as the spending boom has far outpaced supply. The pandemic also caused a lot of Americans to retire early, a big reason the size of the labor force is still well below where it was before the crisis. President Biden would be wise to keep pushing for faster processing of legal immigrants to help expand the pool of workers.

Economists and even Mr. Biden are also warning that that hiring will almost certainly slow down. “If average monthly job creation shifts in the next year from current levels of 500,000 to something closer to 150,000, it will be a sign that we are successfully moving into the next phase of recovery,” the president wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

The reality is that 96 percent of the jobs lost in the 2020 recession are back and many companies no longer see as much urgency to hire. But the past year has made a huge difference to millions of families that now have higher incomes and renewed careers.

It took more than six years to recover from the Great Recession. By comparison, this jobs recovery is on track to take about 2.5 years. That’s worth celebrating.

Loading...