The nation’s unemployment rate jumped more than 10 points to 14.7% in April, as the coronavirus pandemic brought the U.S. economy to a standstill, the largest one-month plunge in employment levels since the federal government began measuring such data in 1948.
Total nonfarm payroll employment fell by 20.5 million in April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday, taking the country’s payrolls back to 2011 levels. It was 10 times higher than the previous all-time high of 1.95 million jobs lost when the military was demobilized after World War II. Employment fell sharply in all major industry sectors, with particularly heavy job losses in leisure and hospitality.
Unemployment rates rose sharply among all major worker groups. The rate was 13% for adult men, 15.5% for adult women, 31.9% for teenagers, 14.2% percent for whites, 16.7% percent for blacks, 14.5% percent for Asians, and 18.9 percent for Hispanics. Except for blacks, the rates for all groups were record highs, the BLS said.
Economists had anticipated that the monthly government unemployment figures, which explore job losses more deeply than the weekly reports on new unemployment claims, would reflect a historic erosion of jobs. Though new claims are subsiding and some states are beginning to lift lockdown orders, some experts say the worst is yet to come.
“Even with the economy slowly starting to reopen, the number of unemployed should continue to rise sharply as governments, as well as businesses that have tried but not succeeded at holding the line, are now laying off workers,” Joel Naroff, president and founder of Naroff Economic Advisors in Bucks County, said in a note to clients. He and other economists expect the unemployment rate to exceed 20%.
The monthly report breaks out employment data into granular detail, but does not include details on state unemployment rates — that report will be released later this month. Pennsylvania had a 6% unemployment rate in March, ranking in the bottom five of the country. So it is likely to fare worse than average when the updated statewide data come out, and to shatter its previous monthly high jobless rate of 12.7%, set in February 1983.
The monthly national report may understate joblessness because 6.6 million more Americans were counted as out of the labor force in April and not included in the unemployment calculation, said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. “Plus, the number of workers forced to work part-time soared by 5.1 million, to 10.9 million in April,” Stettner said. Millions of other workers have lost their jobs since the BLS completed its April survey.
Most of the job losses occurred recently, reflecting the lightning strike to the workforce from widespread COVID-19 lockdowns. The number of unemployed persons who were jobless for fewer than five weeks increased by 10.7 million to 14.3 million, accounting for almost two-thirds of the unemployed. The number of long-term unemployed, for 27 weeks or more, declined by 225,000 over the month to 939,000, or 4.1% of the unemployed.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia called the unemployment situation “exceptionally fluid,” acknowledging the April snapshot does not recognize the latest layoffs or the impact of employees beginning to return to work. “We also know that, by reopening safely, we have the capacity to avoid permanent job losses for the overwhelming percent of Americans who, the report shows, currently view their job loss as temporary,” Scalia said in a statement.
Among ethnic groups, Hispanic unemployment rose the fastest, increasing by 12.9 percentage points, to 18.9%. There was a sharp distinction in gender, with women accounting for 55% of job losses, as service industries in which women are overrepresented were hit hard.
“Millions of women are clustered in the service industry, and their jobs are rapidly vanishing due to the COVID-19 pandemic," said economist Yana Rodgers, the faculty director of the Rutgers Center for Women and Work.
The sectors hit hardest come as little surprise: Employment in leisure and hospitality plummeted by 7.7 million, or 47%, and almost three-quarters of that was in food services and drinking places.
Employment declined by 2.5 million in education and health services. While hospitals were overcome by COVID-19 patients, other health-care sectors shed 1.4 million jobs, led by losses in offices of dentists, physicians, and other health-care providers.
Employment declined by 651,000 in social assistance, reflecting job losses in child day-care services and individual and family services. Employment in private education declined by 457,000 over the month.
Professional and business services shed 2.1 million jobs in April, led by sharp losses in temporary help services and in services to buildings and dwellings.
Jobs in retail trade declined by 2.1 million, including clothing and clothing accessories, motor vehicle sales, and furniture stores. The job losses were offset by a gain of 93,000 jobs in general merchandise stores, including warehouse clubs and so-called supercenters.
Manufacturing employment dropped by 1.3 million, mostly in durable goods, such as motor vehicles. Employment in the other services industries declined by 1.3 million in April, led by losses in personal and laundry services.
Government employment dropped by 980,000, mostly at the local government level. Construction jobs fell by 975,000, led by the loss in specialty trade contractors.