U.S. employment numbers unexpectedly improved last month amid the COVID-19 health crisis, signaling that an economic turnaround could be on the horizon.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfarm payrolls gained 2.5 million jobs and the unemployment rate declined to 13.3%. Economists had expected a loss of 8.3 million jobs and a rate of 19.5%, which would have been the country’s worst employment record since the era of the Great Depression.
“These improvements in the labor market reflected a limited resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed in March and April due to the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it,” the Labor Department explained.
In April, employers lost a record 20.5 million jobs, and the unemployment rate spiked to 14.7%, as the deadly outbreak spread throughout the country and pummeled the U.S. economy. Scores of stores, offices and businesses shuttered their doors for weeks, forcing many nonessential employers to terminate or furlough their workers. Since mid-March, more than 41 million people have filed for unemployment benefits.
However, May’s gains marked the largest single-month employment surge in U.S. history since at least 1939. In retail — one of the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic — companies added 368,000 jobs, after a loss of 2.3 million in April. Month-over-month employment improvements were most significant in clothing and clothing accessories stores, with an increase of 95,000 jobs, and in general merchandise stores, which rose by 84,000.
In response to the news, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up around 700 points at market open on Friday.
And on Twitter, President Donald Trump touted May’s numbers. “Really big jobs report,” he said. “Great going President Trump (kidding but true)!” He scheduled a press conference at 10 a.m. ET to address the results.
As states and localities continue to loosen their lockdown restrictions, many workers will gradually be expected to return to their posts. However, experts have pointed out that it likely will take years for the economy to recover from the tens of millions of jobs lost during the health crisis. Plus, ongoing national unrest following the death of George Floyd — an unarmed black man who was killed in police custody on May 25 — has led many retailers and malls to postpone reopenings or cut back on operating hours, reducing the number of workers required back in stores.