WASHINGTON – The United States’ unemployment rate in April skyrocketed to 14.7 percent – its highest level since the Great Depression of the 1930s – due to a wave of layoffs stemming from coronavirus-triggered stay-at-home orders and closures of non-essential businesses, the Labor Department reported on Friday.
That marks a 10.3-percentage-point rise from the 4.4 percent unemployment rate in March and the biggest one-month increase ever recorded.
Nonfarm payroll employment fell by 20.5 million in April, with the carnage affecting broad swaths of the economy.
Leisure and hospitality was the hardest-hit sector, shedding 7.7 million jobs, according to the report by the department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The vast majority of the job losses in that sector occurred at food services and drinking places (-5.5 million).
Education and health services also took a beating, with employment declining by 2.5 million.
A total of 503,000 jobs were lost at dentists’ offices, while postponement of elective procedures across the country caused physicians’ offices and the offices of other health-care practitioners to shed 243,000 jobs and 205,000 jobs, respectively.
Although elementary schools and high schools nationwide are continuing to function via distance learning, big job losses occurred in child day care services (-336,000) and private education (-457,000).
Employment in the retail trade and in manufacturing also dropped sharply, with job losses particularly severe in clothing and clothing accessories stores (-740,000), manufacturing of motor vehicles and parts (-382,000) and motor vehicles and parts dealers (-345,000).
The labor force participation rate fell to 60.2 percent in April, down from 62.7 percent in March and the lowest rate since 1973 (when it stood at 60 percent).
The states’ strict measures aimed at containing the novel coronavirus paralyzed the US economy and caused the number of unemployed persons last month to rise by 15.9 million to 23.1 million.
Double-digit unemployment was expected after the “advance” estimate of US first-quarter gross domestic product (GDP), released by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis on April 29, indicated a contraction of 4.8 percent relative to the same three-month period of 2019.
But the contraction in the second quarter is expected to be even greater.
The current bleak unemployment figures are in sharp contrast to February’s jobless rate of 3.5 percent, a half-century low.
“Today’s report reflects the massive impact that measures to contain the coronavirus have had on the American workforce. This employment situation is exceptionally fluid,” US Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said. “We also know that, by re-opening 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.”
Responding to the latest numbers, President Donald Trump said they were predictable but also sounded a note of optimism.
“It’s fully expected. There’s no surprise,” he said on the Fox News program “Fox & Friends” as the numbers were released. “Somebody said, ‘Oh, look at this.’ Well, even the Democrats aren’t blaming me for that, but what I can do is I’ll bring it back.”
“We artificially closed (the economy). Those jobs will all be back, and they’ll be back very soon and next year we’re going to have a phenomenal year. People are ready to go. We’ve got to get it open, safely. People are ready to go.”