US unemployment fell to 11.1% in June as the economy added a solid 4.8 million jobs.
But the job market recovery may already be faltering because of a new round of closures and job losses triggered by a resurgence of coronavirus.
While the jobless rate was down from 13.3% in May, the data was gathered during the second week of June, just before a number of states began to reverse or suspend the reopenings of their economies to try to beat back the virus.
The news came as the number of confirmed infections per day in the US soared to an all-time high of 50,700, more than doubling over the past month, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
The spike, centred primarily in the south and west of the country, has led states such as California, Texas, Arizona and Florida to re-close or otherwise clamp down again on bars, restaurants, cinemas, beaches and swimming pools, throwing some workers out of a job for a second time.
President Donald Trump said the jobs report shows the economy is “roaring back”, though he acknowledged there are still areas where “we’re putting out the flames” of the virus.
Economists expect the recovery to take longer than Mr Trump’s optimistic projections, with the unemployment rate likely to be near double-digit levels by the end of the year.
The shutdowns over the past two weeks will be reflected in the July unemployment report, to be released in early August.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2020
While the job market improved for a second straight month, the government report showed that the US remains far short of regaining the colossal losses it suffered this spring. It has recouped roughly one-third of the 22 million jobs lost.
The re-closings are keeping job losses elevated. The number of Americans who sought unemployment benefits fell only slightly last week to 1.47 million, according to another report. Though the weekly figure has declined steadily since peaking in March, it is still extraordinarily high by historic standards.
And the total number of people who are drawing unemployment benefits remains at a sizeable 19 million.
US job growth in June was driven mainly by companies recalling workers who had been laid off during the widespread business shutdowns across the country in the spring.
In an ominous trend contained in the government report, the number of Americans who said they had lost their jobs permanently rose by 600,000 last month to nearly 2.9 million.