The second major caveat is that job growth was wholly attributable to temporarily sidelined workers returning to their old jobs. The number of Americans on “temporary layoff” fell by 2.7 million in May to 15.3 million. But the number of Americans who were outright fired last month — as opposed to being furloughed — is actually 295,000 higher than in April, with 2.3 million workers suffering permanent job losses.
The surprisingly rapid rehiring of the furloughed is a positive sign. It suggests that Congress’s Paycheck Protection Program — which subsidizes small businesses that rehire their workers or avoid layoffs, and which kicked into high gear in late April — is doing its job. At the same time, the fact that government subsidies are responsible for much of the rehiring means that many of these recovered jobs remain at risk. American restaurants brought 1.4 million workers back on staff in May. But consumer demand for dining out remains far below its pre-pandemic level. If Congress allows PPP funds to phase out this summer, while demand remains depressed, then many workers could ultimately find themselves being furloughed then rehired then permanently fired.