Healthcare adds 23,000 jobs in September despite hurricane-related setbacks
The U.S. economy shed 33,000 jobs in September after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma forced thousands of businesses to close temporarily, including hospitals in Texas and Florida. It marked the first monthly hiring decline in nearly seven years.
Still, the healthcare industry added 23,000 jobs last month, which was in line with its average monthly gain over the prior year. Ambulatory healthcare services added 25,000 jobs, which offset a 9,000 position decline in nursing care positions.
The overall unemployment rate fell to 4.2% from 4.4%, the Labor Department said Friday, the lowest level since February 2001 and a sign that the job market remains fundamentally solid.
Hiring is expected to rebound in the coming months as businesses affected by Harvey and Irma reopen and construction companies ramp up repair and renovation work.
More than 20 hospital systems in Florida closed physician offices and ambulatory centers before Irma made landfall in the state on Sept. 10. Texas hospitals were well-prepared for Hurricane Harvey but still experienced significant flooding.
Last month's drop was driven by huge losses in restaurants and bars, which shed 105,000 jobs, a sign of the damage to Florida's tourism industry. Roughly 1.5 million people were unable to work last month because of the weather, the government said, the most in 20 years.
Hourly workers who couldn't work and missed a paycheck would have been counted as not working, thereby lowering September's job total. That's true even if those employees returned to work after the storm passed or will return.
Average hourly wages rose a healthy 2.9% from 12 months earlier. Still, the government said that figure was artificially inflated by the loss of so many lower-paid workers in hurricane-hit areas. The result was that higher-paid workers disproportionately boosted the wage figure.
More than 11 million people had been employed in the 87 counties in Texas and Florida that were declared disaster areas, the government said. That's equal to about 7.7% of the nation's workforce.
Harvey caused approximately $76 billion to $87 billion in economic losses, according to Moody's Analytics, an economic consulting firm. The estimate includes damage to homes and businesses as well as lost business and economic output. That calculation would make Harvey the second-worst U.S. natural disaster, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Irma will likely end up causing $58 billion to $83 billion in economic losses, Moody's forecasted. Maria, which hammered Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, could cost $45 billion to $95 billion, though that is a preliminary estimate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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