ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — The U.S. job market is bouncing back but is still far below its pre-coronavirus pandemic level.

With COVID-19 vaccines becoming more widespread, more people getting vaccinated, and business restrictions lifted, employment rose by 916,000 in March, the U.S. Department of Labor reported. The department also adjusted its February employment numbers from 379,000 to 468,000.

What You Need To Know

  • March saw 916,000 new hires as unemployment drops to 6% nationally

  • The national unemployment rate is the lowest since April 2020 (14.8%), but 2.5% higher than pre-pandemic February 2020

  • Leisure and hospitality had the most job gains, with 280,000 new hires

  • Orange County's unemployment rate is at 6.8% lower in previous months, but is still higher than pre-pandemic times

The national unemployment rate now stands at 6%, the lowest since the coronavirus pandemic tanked the economy in April 2020. Last April, the unemployment rate was 14.8%.

"March's strong job growth numbers may speed up the recovery timeline, especially for metros on the front end of the recovery," said Jay Denton, chief analyst for ThinkWhy, a Dallas-based software company that analyzes the labor market.

Denton added that if the vaccine continues to bolster the economic rebound, they expect certain industries and locations to recover by the end of 2021 or early 2022 fully.

March's national unemployment report is down considerably from its recent high in April 2020 but is 2.5% points higher than its pre-pandemic level in February 2020, the Department of Labor reported. The number of unemployed persons is at 9.7 million, which is four million higher than in February 2020.

Minorities remain the most impacted by the coronavirus catalyzed downturn. Very little of their situation changed in March, the Dept. of Labor reported. The unemployment rate for the Black population is 9.6%, women's is at 5.7%, while Hispanics declined slightly to 7.9% and unemployment for Asians rose to 6% in March. The unemployment for white people remains at 5.4%.

“It’s clear that through vaccination progress and extensive economic relief, the American Rescue Plan is having positive effects on our economy, laying the foundation for continued recovery," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh in a statement. "But America’s economy remains in a deep hole, and the negative effects are experienced disproportionately by lower income workers and those who faced structural inequities prior to the pandemic.”

Leisure and hospitality, public and private education, and construction led this round of hiring.

The leisure and hospitality industry was one of the first victims of the pandemic because of international travel bans and other pandemic-related restrictions. But as consumer confidence rise due to the vaccine rollout, pent-up demand for dining out and travel is driving the industry forward.

The sector saw 280,000 new jobs in March, mostly from food services and bars, arts, entertainment and recreation, and accommodations. Still, the workforce in the industry is down 3.1 million from its pre-pandemic levels in February 2020.

With many schools resuming in-person learning, the state, local, and private education sector saw more than 190,000 new hires last month. Construction added 110,000 jobs in March, but is still far below the 182,000 in February 2020. Retail added 23,000 jobs in March, mostly in clothing and home furnishing stores.

Here are the other job gains in March:

  • Professional and business services: 66,000
  • Manufacturing: 53,000
  • Transportation and Warehousing: 48,000
  • Financial services: 16,000

In total, the private sector alone hired more than half a million people last month, according to human resource payroll software company ADP.

"We saw marked improvement in March's labor market data, reporting the strongest gain since September 2020," said Nela Richardson, chief economist at ADP, in a statement. "Job growth in the service sector significantly outpaced its recent monthly average, led with a notable increase by the leisure and hospitality industry. This sector has the most opportunity to improve as the economy continues to gradually reopen and the vaccine is made more widely available. We are continuing to keep a close watch on the hardest-hit sectors, but the groundwork is being laid for a further boost in the monthly pace of hiring in the months ahead."

Orange County

Locally, Orange County's unemployment rate fell half a percentage point from January to 6.8% in February, according to the California Employment Development Dept.'s latest numbers.

The county's unemployment rate is still 2.8% higher year-over-year. The county saw 24,000 new hires from January 2021 to February 2021.

Leisure and hospitality added 8,200 jobs — the most of any sector — followed by professional and business services with 7,900 new hires, and education and health services with 3,500 hires, the EDD office reported.

While the county's leisure and hospitality saw modest gains, it still lags far behind the 225,000 people that worked in that industry last year.