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St. Louis unemployment falls to 4.9%, driven partly by labor force dropouts

St. Louis unemployment falls to 4.9%, driven partly by labor force dropouts

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Restaurant workers protest shutdown

A St. Louis County police officer watches from inside as restaurant workers from around the St. Louis region protest outside the St. Louis County government building in Clayton on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. The group was protesting County Executive Sam Page's new coronavirus restrictions which closes indoor dining at restaurants. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

Metro St. Louis' unemployment rate is back below 5% for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The rate for October, as seasonally adjusted by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, is 4.9%, down from 5.8% in September. The area's unemployment rate jumped from 3.4% in March to 11.6% in May, then began falling as businesses reopened.

The national jobless rate was 6.9% in October, down from a peak of 14.7% in May.

The falling unemployment rate has been driven both by a bounce-back in jobs and by people leaving the workforce. Many former workers have stopped looking for jobs because of child-care issues, worries about the virus or pessimism about their job prospects.

Metro St. Louis' labor force — defined as the number of people working or actively looking for a job — shrank by 52,960 people, or 3.6 percent, between October 2019 and October 2020, according to figures released Thursday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The BLS counted 61,646 metro area residents as unemployed in October, down from 78,276 in September but up sharply from 43,061 a year ago.

The unemployment rate is calculated from a BLS survey of households. A separate employer survey showed that metro St. Louis added 5,600 jobs in October but has lost 60,100 jobs since the pandemic began.

The sharpest drop has been in the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes restaurants and hotels. Employment in that sector is down by 18,700, or 13%, since March.

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