US unemployment rate skyrockets to 14.7%
The coronavirus crisis has sent US unemployment surging to 14.7 per cent, a level last seen when the country was in the throes of the Depression and President Franklin D. Roosevelt was assuring Americans that the only thing to fear was fear itself.
And because of government errors and the particular way the Labor Department measures the job market, the true picture is even worse. By some calculations, the unemployment rate stands at 23.6 per cent, not far from the Depression peak of nearly 25 per cent.
The Labor Department said Friday that 20.5 million jobs vanished in April in the worst monthly loss on record, triggered by coast-to-coast shutdowns of factories, stores, offices and other businesses.
The breathtaking collapse is certain to intensify the push-pull across the US over how and when to ease stay-at-home restrictions. And it robs President Donald Trump of the ability to point to a strong economy as he runs for reelection.
"The jobs report from hell is here," said Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, "one never seen before and unlikely to be seen again barring another pandemic or meteor hitting the Earth."
On Wall Street, stocks pushed higher as investors reckoned that the worst of the job losses are over. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained more than 455 points, or close to 2 per cent.
Worldwide, the virus has infected at least 3.9 million people and killed over 276,000, including more than 77,000 in the US, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University based on official data. White House officials announced that Vice President Mike Pence's press secretary has the coronavirus, the second person at the complex known to test positive this week, and said safety protocols were being stepped up.
The unemployment report indicated that the vast majority of those laid off in April - roughly 75 per cent - consider their job loss temporary, a result of businesses that were forced to close suddenly but hope to reopen and recall staffers.
Whether most of those workers can return anytime soon, though, will be determined by how well policymakers, businesses and the public deal with the health crisis. Economists worry it will take years to recover all the jobs lost.
The meltdown has occurred with startling speed. In February, unemployment was at a more than 50-year low of 3.5 per cent, and the economy had added jobs every month for a record 9 1/2 years. In March, unemployment was 4.4 per cent.
"In just two months the unemployment rate has gone from the lowest rate in 50 years to the highest rate in almost 90 years," said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial.
Nearly all the job growth achieved during the 11-year recovery from the financial meltdown has now been lost in one month.
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