When the COVID-19 outbreak erupted on U.S. soil in the early part of 2020, the economy was quick to shed jobs. Not only did the national unemployment rate reach a record high in April of 2020, but the situation became so dire that lawmakers boosted jobless benefits and sent stimulus checks to shore up Americans' bank accounts.
But roughly two and a half years later, the economy is in a much different -- and much better -- place. In fact, recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the economy has now officially regained all of the jobs it lost during the pandemic. And that's a situation workers should take advantage of.
The numbers are looking good
The U.S. economy added 528,000 jobs in July, which was well beyond the 250,000 economists were expecting. Meanwhile, the national unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% after holding steady at 3.6% for several months. For context, the jobless rate was 3.5% in February of 2020, before the pandemic began. July also marked the 19th consecutive month of job growth and represents the highest number of monthly jobs added since February.
Of the 528,000 jobs added in July, 122,000 were in the education and health services sector; 96,000 were in leisure and hospitality; and 89,000 stemmed from professional services. But some of these industries, along with others, are still struggling to hire. And in July, the labor force participation rate ticked downward ever so slightly from 62.2% to 62.1%.
How to use a strong job market to your advantage
No matter what stage of your career you're at, now's a good time to be looking for a job or fighting for better pay and benefits at the one you have. In many industries, companies are desperate to both hire and retain staff. And that gives you a lot of negotiating power.
Say you're generally happy with your job but feel you could use a bump up in pay. Your first move should be to research salary data to see how your compensation stacks up. If you can point to data showing that the average person in your area with your job description makes more than you do, that's an easy way to argue for a raise.
You can also try fighting for a better benefits package at work if yours is lacking. That could mean asking for more paid time off, better health insurance, or an employer match for your retirement plan if one doesn't yet exist.
Meanwhile, if you're job-hunting, now's the time to go out and think big when it comes to compensation. This doesn't mean you should be unreasonable in your demands. And you'll definitely want to research salary data to see what sort of wages you can command. But don't be afraid to shoot for the high end of that salary range, because now's the time when companies might be willing to pay up for strong talent.
The U.S. economy has come a long way since the spring of 2020. If you're eager to see your wages climb, now's the time to go after a raise or pursue a better compensation package overall. We don't know if a recession will hit later this year or early next, and how it might impact the labor market. So right now, it pays to fight for the best deal you can snag.
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