Employment increased by 194,000 jobs in September, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday, including 300 in accounting and bookkeeping services, while the unemployment rate fell by 0.4 percentage point to 4.8%, as the economy continues its slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The main job gains happened in the leisure and hospitality sector, as well as professional and business services (where management and technical consulting services, as well as architectural and engineering services, saw the biggest gains), retail trade, transportation and warehousing. However, employment in public education declined over the course of the month. Average hourly earnings rose 19 cents to $30.85 in September, after large increases in the previous five months.
The job gains fell short of expectations, with economists at Dow Jones, for example, predicting a gain of 500,000 jobs for the month.
“It fell short, but I’m really pleased with the numbers that we have today,” said Kevin Roeder, vice president of the LaSalle Network, a national staffing and recruiting firm that specializes in accounting and finance recruiting. “With unemployment being at 4.8%, a little higher than what we were at before the pandemic of 3.5%, what we’re seeing right now is the supply and demand in professional services, especially within accounting and finance. We’re seeing a lot of positions right now, with staff accountants, senior accountants, controllers, assistant controllers and cost accountants coming across our desk today from an order perspective. We’re seeing companies exceeding 20% of offers from a salary perspective. Companies are paying over the number for talent today because they know how difficult it is to get the talent. Compensation has risen across the board, especially for direct hires, but we’re also seeing it on the contract side, as clients are raising their budgets for their accounting to make 6 to 10K more annually for contract employees.”
The demand has encouraged more accountants to switch jobs for better pay and working conditions, while employers have gone to greater lengths to retain talented accounting employees who are considering a new job offer. “We had somebody get an offer and the counteroffer was 40% higher than their base salary,” said Roeder. “We’re seeing companies giving those kinds of counteroffers more today than we’ve seen in the past. That all goes back to the supply and demand right now. Going to market, they know it’s going to take 60 to 90 days to fill a position, and instead of going out and paying the resources that there may be, they’re saying we’ll just counteroffer the person at that price to keep them around.”
Separately, CBIZ, a Top 100 Firm, released its monthly Small Business Employment Index on Friday, indicating a seasonally adjusted increase of 0.21% in September, a reversal of declines in August, based on payroll and hiring trends of over 3,700 companies that have 300 or fewer employees. CBIZ saw stronger hiring in the West, up 2.34%, while the Central region showed relatively flat growth at 0.01%. The Southeast showed modest growth of 0.32% in September, while the Northeast region indicated a hiring decline of -0.51%. On an industry basis, the biggest increases occurred in educational services, accommodations and food services, transportation and nonprofits. The arts and entertainment, retail and health care sectors, on the other hand, experienced decreases in hiring.
“The September reading, while reporting relatively unremarkable growth, is a good sign for small business hiring during a month that we typically see a hiring downturn,” said CBIZ executive vice president Philip Noftsinger in a statement. “These findings also debunk some of the earlier theories that proposed the enhanced unemployment benefits were the leading factor causing labor shortages. Looking ahead, vaccine mandates might contribute to some hiring declines in regions and industries that are beginning to enforce vaccinations in companies of 100-plus employees. The September data is reassuring moving into the holidays when we hope to see seasonal growth.”