April was the worst month for the United States labor force since the government began tracking the data at the start of the Second World War.
According to the Labor Department, employers lost more than 20.5 million jobs last month, and the unemployment rate spiked to 14.7%, as the coronavirus spread throughout the country and pummeled the U.S. economy.
Although economists were expecting payrolls to decline by 21.5 million and the unemployment rate to hit 16%, April’s figures easily beat World War II-era records and were comparable to labor activity during the Great Depression. (According to historical estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate surged to nearly 25% in 1933.)
The report called attention to the severe impact of the COVID-19 health crisis, which led scores of stores, offices and businesses to temporarily close their doors for weeks. The shutdowns forced many nonessential employers to lay off or furlough their workers. Since mid-March, more than 33 million people have filed for unemployment benefits.
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Retail has been among the hardest-hit sectors: Employment in the industry fell by 2.1 million in April, with job losses of 740,000 at clothing and clothing accessories stores; a drop of 264,000 jobs at miscellaneous stores; and a 161,000 decline at department stores. (Warehouse clubs and supercenters, on the other hand, were a bright spot, gaining 93,000 jobs.)
Over the course of a little more than a month, the pandemic wiped out all job gains since the Great Recession and brought to a halt the U.S.’s decade-long economic expansion. However, an increasing number of states — including Colorado, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee — have begun reopening shops, restaurants and other businesses, which could push some workers off of unemployment.
What’s more, President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion economic stimulus package in late March, promising unemployment pay and benefits for millions of Americans — including furloughed workers, freelancers as well as self-employed and gig workers, such as Uber drivers and Airbnb hosts. The measure ensures that jobless workers will receive weekly pay of $600 for four months on top of state benefits, as well as up to 13 weeks of extended benefits.