Employment in the United States is beginning to bounce back from two years of COVID-19.

According to the US Labor Department, the number of employees in non-agricultural sectors was up by 678,000 as of February 28th. This is the highest employment rate since July 2021 and is seen as a sign that the population of employed individuals throughout the country is returning to pre-pandemic numbers.

While employee numbers are up, labor has seen little change in wages. While average salaries were up 5.13%, it is still below the 5.8% initially projected by Dow Jones analysts. For February, the hourly wage was only up by 1 cent (0.03%), lower than the 0.05% projected. This was considered a sign that inflation may be slowing down.

An Urgent Need to Fill

According to Labor’s most recent report, the American workforce is still down by around 1.14 million. To date, the country is still reeling from labor shortages. As a result, it has been challenging to fill 10.9 million vacant positions that opened towards the end of 2021, essentially leaving around 1.7 vacancies per potential employee.

The report also confirms that the surge in cases involving the virulent Omicron variant hardly had any impact on national employment. For Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao, this is a sign that the US job market is healthy and can withstand the surges that have occurred throughout the pandemic. Job gains have surged to more than 400,000 for ten consecutive months based on his estimates.

For his part, however, Citizens Financial Group managing director Eric Merlis says that the public should still be wary due to other factors influencing the state of employment. Geopolitical issues like those between Ukraine and Russia are one such factor, while inflation – particularly with regard to fuel costs – will also have its part to play. Nevertheless, as pandemic restrictions are being relaxed across the country, job growth is expected to rally over the next several months.

Sectors on the Road to Recovery

Interestingly, the hospitality and tourism sectors, two industries most heavily impacted by the pandemic, registered the highest gains, boosting their numbers by 179,000 new employees as restaurants, hotels, and resorts began reopening. Despite a two cents per hour decline in wages, this growth is significant. 

Professional and business services were also up by 95,000 new hires, while frontline sectors healthcare, infrastructure, transportation, and retail are up by a cumulative 370,000 new workers. The manufacturing and financial services fields also contributed 36,000 and 35,000 respectively.