The Labor Department's nonfarm payrolls report for February 2021 will be released at 8:30 a.m. ET on Friday, March 5, 2021. The headlines on the jobs front have started to brighten a bit in recent weeks, as COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed and administered. Still, the move back to full employment is slow. Last month, employers added jobs (an admittedly low 49,000) and the unemployment rate dropped from 6.7% to 6.3% (but that was because workers left the workforce). Drilling deeper into the data, we note that the rate of chronic underemployment (i.e., also counting part-time workers who want full-time jobs, or workers who have been out of work for at least six months) is 11.1% -- well above the five-year average of 9.4% and the sub-7% rate that prevailed at the end of 2019. We look for the jobs data to improve in the months ahead. Last week, unemployment claims fell sharply, to 730,000 from 841,000 in the prior week. Our forecast calls for modest 100,000 growth in payrolls for February. We actually look for the unemployment rate to tick higher, back toward 6.5%, as vaccine developments bring workers back to the workforce in search of jobs.
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