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Coronavirus Cost Retail 46,000 Jobs Last Month, Wipes Out Nearly a Decade of Overall Gains

The Labor Department today reported the first decline in payrolls in nearly a decade, with March’s jobs report reflecting only the beginning of a labor market collapse spurred by the novel coronavirus.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. employers slashed 701,000 payrolls last month — the first drop since September 2010 — while the unemployment rate jumped to 4.4%. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had predicted a dip of 10,000 in payrolls and expected the unemployment rate to rise to 3.7%.

Most of the data was collected in the first half of March, just before the states and localities across the country imposed broad shutdowns and stay-at-home orders to help stem the spread of COVID-19, which has sickened 245,600 people and killed at least 6,000 in the U.S.

“We cannot precisely quantify the effects of the pandemic on the job market in March,” the bureau added. “However, it is clear that the decrease in employment and hours and the increase in unemployment can be ascribed to the effects of the illness and efforts to contain the virus.”

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On Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office forecasted that the unemployment rate could exceed 10% in the second quarter, reflecting the nearly 10 million jobless claims filed over the past couple weeks.

Footwear and apparel retailers have been particularly hard hit: In the past month, department stores, fashion and footwear brands, and specialty retailers have temporarily shuttered doors across the country amid the outbreak. (A growing list of industry players that paid their workers during an initial two-week closure have since announced furloughs, layoffs and/or pay cuts for members of their executive and senior leadership teams.)

According to the bureau, the retail sector in March lost 46,000 jobs: Clothing and clothing accessories stores tanked by 16,300, while sporting goods, hobby and other stores slid by 9,200. Non-store, or online, retail jobs dropped by 1,400.

However, general merchandise stores — including department stores, warehouses and supercenters — gained 10,300. Within the last two weeks, big-box chain Walmart, e-commerce giant Amazon and discount retailer Dollar Tree have announced that it would hire thousands of workers to meet certain coronavirus-related demands in their businesses.

Last week, President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus package intended to aid businesses, individuals, and state and local governments as the pandemic takes hold. The deal includes $250 billion in checks to individuals and families, $250 billion in jobless insurance benefits, $350 billion in small business loans and $500 billion in loans for distressed companies.

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