Biden urged workers to return to offices. The February jobs report shows they already are.


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Data in the February jobs report point to the labor market returning to its pre-pandemic normal.Workers calling out sick halved, telecommuting eased, and fewer businesses were forced to close.The report comes days after President Biden called on the US to return to offices.Get a daily selection of our top stories based on your reading preferences.Loading Something is loading.

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President Joe Biden used part of his State of the Union address to call workers back to offices, saying it was time to ” fill our great downtowns again .”

“We can end the shutdown of schools and businesses,” the president said.”We have the tools we need.”

The American people are one step ahead of him.

Data included in the government’s latest jobs report reveals the labor market took a sharp turn toward normalcy last month.Payroll creation and the unemployment rate in February beat economists’ forecasts.And additional data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed pandemic-era work habits quickly reversing course.

The share of workers telecommuting because of the pandemic fell to 13%, down from 15.4% the month prior.While that’s still above the December low of 11.1%, it suggests the easing of daily COVID infections led to a quick return to in-person work.It’s also well below the pandemic-era high of 24.3% seen in August 2020.

The improved virus situation also led to fewer business closures.Roughly 4.2 million people said they couldn’t work in February because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic, according to the Friday report.

That’s down from the January reading of 6 million people.

Fewer workers had to call out sick as well.Nearly 1.6 million workers were absent from their jobs due to illness in February, down from 3.6 million the month prior.

That’s also the lowest count since November, hinting that the Omicron variant’s retreat allowed for a far more normal work environment.

Similar trends were seen with Americans not currently in the labor force.The pandemic prevented 1.2 million people from seeking work in February, the government said, down from 1.8 million in January.

Even certain sectors’ jobs numbers pointed to a return to normal.Leisure and hospitality businesses continued to lead the recovery, with such firms adding 179,000 nonfarm payrolls last month.Smaller proxies of the pre-pandemic economy also thrived.Personal and laundry services created 8,600 jobs.

Clothing stores added 4,600 payrolls.Transit and ground-passenger transportation firms counted for 5,500 new jobs.

It’s not just Biden pushing for a shift back to in-person work.New York City Mayor Eric Adams pushed back against remote work on February 23, arguing indefinite telework policies weren’t sustainable for the metropolis, Insider’s Jake Lahut reported .

Workers can’t “stay home in pajamas all day,” and leaving the city locked down harms the low-earning workers who bore the brunt of the coronavirus recession , he said.

“In order for our economic — financial ecosystem, I should say — to function, we have to have human interaction,” Adams added.”It can’t be done from home.And if we do that, then we’re going to greatly impact low-wage workers.”

To be sure, the labor market is far from fully recovered.The US is still down some 2.1 million jobs from pre-pandemic levels, and even recouping those lost payrolls won’t make up for the job creation that would’ve happened without the economic downturn.

Still, job growth is accelerating and the 7-day average for daily COVID cases is the lowest since July.The economic backdrop is slowly looking more like it did two years ago, and the labor market is following close behind.

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