Jobs go up, unemployment goes down

Did Texas schools just surrender to the virus?

The economy continued its slow and steady climb out of the pandemic recession in July. The new jobs report showed an increase of 934,000 jobs while the unemployment rate ticked down 0.5 points to 5.4 percent. The report beat expectations after several months of slower-than-expected growth.

The job market still is not completely recovered from the pandemic, but the nearly one million new jobs show that the economy is growing at a faster rate than previous months. June job creation was revised up to 938,000 new jobs, which was up from the disappointing revised figure of 614,000 in May. The US is still down 5.7 million jobs or 3.7 percent from its February 2020 high, but the job market is picking up steam.

Of course, there is a risk that the new wave of Delta infections will slow hiring as many people and businesses seek to protect themselves from this new surge. Any slowdown in hiring from the current surge will almost certainly not be as bad as April of last year (the year that must not be named) when unemployment hit 14.8 percent in the span of few short weeks.

The largest job gains in July were in the leisure and hospitality industry, which posted 380,000 new jobs. Most of the jobs in this sector were with restaurants and bars. If you’re like me and have been experiencing slow service at restaurants due to the lack of workers, you’ll agree this is a good thing.

Education was the second largest growth sector with 221,000 new government jobs and 40,000 private education jobs. Part of this increase likely reflects seasonal hiring patterns as schools prepare to reopen for the fall.

Wages were also up, reflecting the strong labor market. Average hourly earnings increased by 11 cents while the average weekly hours remained unchanged.

An additional sign of the tight labor market is employers using added benefits to lure workers. For example, Target and Walmart both announced this week that it would pay t100 percent of college tuition and textbooks for employees. The market is providing expanded access to college in a way that few expected.

Economists were happy about the report, which showed that growth was strong but not so heated that it would further stoke inflation fears.

“Although there have been some cracks in the armor, today’s jobs number showed that once again our economy is incredibly resilient and moving forward,” Ryan Detrick, chief market strategist for LPL Financial, told CNBC. “This number was really good, but the best part was it wasn’t so strong that the Fed would have to change policy.”

For now, that means that the country seems to be on the right track, at least economically speaking. Look for the government and the Fed to keep on doing what they are doing.

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From the memes going around the internet, it sounds as though the Texas Education Agency has apparently decided to give up on containing the pandemic and just surrender to the virus. New guidance from the Texas public school agency that was released on Thursday sets a new standard in the race among Republican governors to weaken the public health response to COVID-19, but the guidelines are not all bad.

Among the new policies from TEA:

  • Schools cannot require masks

  • Schools must allow masks if the student chooses to wear one

  • Schools must exclude students who are “actively sick” with COVID-19 or who test positive

  • Schools should but are not required to notify parents if their child was in close contact with a COVID-infected person

  • Parents of students who were in close contact “may opt to keep their students at home during the recommended stay-at-home period”

  • The recommended “stay-at-home” period is the CDC-recommended 10 days, but “students can end the stay-at-home period if they receive a negative result from a PCR acute infection test after the close contact exposure ends”

  • There is no mention of contact tracing

The upside here is that schools are required to keep COVID-positive students out of classes. That includes asymptomatic spreaders who do not appear to be “actively sick.” That and the fact that masks are not totally banned is about as far as the good news goes, however.

Schools aren’t required to determine who was in close contact with infected students and faculty and they aren’t required to notify parents if they do decide to go to the trouble of contact tracing. If parents do get the word that their child was exposed to the virus, they can still send them to school anyway.

The alternative method of allowing a PCR test to end the “stay-home” period is vague but suggests that a student could take the test immediately after exposure, when it is too early to show a positive result, and still go back to school. Of course, this whole point is moot because no quarantine is required for close-contact cases.

As far as masks, no matter how pervasive the virus gets in Texas schools, the schools can’t require masks. It is unlikely that many students will voluntarily choose to wear masks amid social pressure not to do so.

I’m not going to make a prediction as to how the Texas school experiment will end. I’ve learned over the past 18 months that a great many factors are at play when it comes to the viral spread. Even before these rules go into effect, Texas seems determined to overtake California as the state with the most COVID cases and California and New York as the nation’s worst Coronavirus death toll. The Lone Star state is even outpacing Florida as a viral disaster area.

I will say, however, that allowing schools to keep COVID cases quiet and p discouraging mitigations such as masks and isolating the infected and exposed puts both students and their families at risk. There is growing evidence that the dominant Delta strain is more dangerous to children than the alpha strain from last fall. This is especially true since young children are not eligible for vaccinations that could help to prevent them from both getting sick and taking the virus home.

Texas didn’t totally surrender to the virus, but the new policy comes darn close.


Thanks for sticking with me this week! For those of you who have exceeded your maximum weekly allowance of Vitamin Dave, please be reassured that Steve will be back next week to restore balance to the Racket.

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