Total payrolls declined for the first time since April due to spiking COVID-19 cases.

Nonfarm payroll employment dropped by 140,000 jobs in December, with the nation’s unemployment rate holding steady at 6.7 percent, a sign of stalled recovery as COVID-19 cases spike.

Daniel Zhao | Photo credit: Twitter

It’s the first time since April’s plummet that the U.S. economy overall did not add jobs, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

“Today’s report is an alarming economic bookend to 2020 and shows the recovery grinding to a halt as the pandemic worsens,” Daniel Zhao, the chief economist at Glassdoor, said on Twitter.

“It’s been obvious for some time now that this winter wave is much worse than the summer’s and the economic data is bearing that out,” Zhao added.

The decline in payroll employment comes as COVID-19 cases are spiking — daily deaths topped 4,000 for the first time ever this week — and local governments are taking more measures to control the spread.

The number of individuals who reported that they had been unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to COVID-19 increased by 1 million to 15.8 million. In December, 23.7 percent of employed persons reported working from home due to COVID-19, up from 21.8 percent in November.

Leisure, hospitality and private education all saw big losses, which were partially offset by gains in professional and business services, retail trade and construction.

The real estate industry added 4,800 jobs, but employment in the sector — which includes rental and leasing — is still below 2019’s level, despite the hot housing market.

The increase in construction jobs, however, is good news for an inventory-starved real estate market. The country added 51,000 construction jobs in the month of December.

“The lack of inventory is the biggest constraint to further growth in home sales this year,” Mike Fratantoni, the chief economist of the Mortgage Bankers Association, said in a statement. “More workers in the sector should support the faster pace of housing construction the market needs.”

Email Patrick Kearns

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