(WASHINGTON) — Employers added 235,000 jobs in August, far below expectations of 720,000 new hires, and the unemployment rate dipped slightly to 5.2%, the Department of Labor said Friday.

The fresh labor market data comes as the spread of the more contagious delta variant has throttled the pace of the recovery. The latest figure is a steep fall from the approximately 1 million jobs that were added in both June and July.

So far this year, job growth has averaged 586,000 jobs per month, the DOL said. While employment has risen by some 17 million since April 2020, the economy is still down about 5.3 million jobs from its pre-pandemic level in February 2020 — when the unemployment rate was at a historic low of 3.5% prior to COVID-19 walloping the labor market.

Notable job gains last month occurred in professional and business services (which saw an uptick of 74,000 jobs), transportation and warehousing (which saw a rise of 53,000 jobs), private education (which saw an increase of 40,000 jobs), and manufacturing (which added 37,000 jobs).

Employment in retail trade declined by 29,000 jobs in August, likely a reflection of the virus resurgence, with major losses in food and beverage stores (where 23,000 jobs were lost).

Leisure and hospitality employment was unchanged in August, the DOL said, after back-to-back gains the previous months. Employment in leisure and hospitality is still down by 1.7 million jobs compared to pre-pandemic levels.

The latest data continues to reflect the uneven impact of the COVID-19 downturn. The unemployment rate for white workers was 4.5% in August, compared to 8.8% for Black workers, 6.4% for Hispanic workers and 4.6% for Asian workers.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) fell in August to 3.2 million, but is 2.1 million higher than in February 2020. These long-term unemployed accounted for 37.4% of the total unemployed in August, according to the DOL.

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