NIC Chief Economist Beth Burnham Mace

Labor Department data released for August were “disappointing,” according to Beth Burnham Mace, chief economist at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care.

“The data show that the U.S. recovery from the pandemic continues but at a slower pace,” Mace wrote in a Friday blog post.

The rise in the delta variant of COVID-19 could be responsible for some of the slowdown in month-over-month job growth, according to the economist.

“Businesses may be holding off hiring and workers may be holding off taking jobs amid heightened fear of the delta variant,” Mace wrote. “Job levels continued to contract for nursing care facilities, which fell by 7,100 jobs to a seasonally adjusted 1,364,000 and were down from year-earlier levels of 1,464,600.” 

The encouraging news, she said, is that the number of long-term unemployed individuals decreased by 246,000 to 3.2 million; those are workers that have been jobless for 27 weeks or more. Still, this number is significantly higher than early in the pandemic; 2.1 million higher than in February 2020. 

“The labor force participation rate, which is a measure of the share of working age people who are employed or looking for work, was steady at 61.7% in August and has remained within a narrow range of 61.4% to 61.7% since June 2020,” the economist wrote. “Many workers have dropped out of the labor force since the pandemic began to take care of family members or out of fear of working and catching the virus.”