Economic Indicators | Jobs and Unemployment

News from EPI A waking nightmare: Today’s jobs report shows 20.5 million jobs lost in April

After a sharp fall in March, payroll employment dropped like a rock in April. I struggle to even put into words how large this drop is. It’s as if all the gains in employment since 2000 were wiped out. Total job losses over the last two months would fill all 30 currently empty Major League Baseball stadiums 16 times over. It’s as if all the jobs in all of the states beginning with the letter “M” simply disappeared in the last month. That’s all the jobs in Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, and Montana combined.

The job losses in April were far more widespread than the job losses in March. There were acute losses in leisure and hospitality (-7.7 million), education and health services (-2.5 million), professional and business services (-2.1 million), retail trade (-2.1 million), manufacturing (-1.3 million), and other services (-1.3 million).

Women workers continue to bear a larger share of job losses in the COVID-19 labor market. In April, women suffered 54.9% of total job losses. Women represented 50.0% of payroll employment in February, but represented 55.0% of job losses over the last two months.

Production and nonsupervisory workers—who represent roughly the bottom 82% of all workers, when lined up by earnings—experienced the lion’s share of job losses in April. Total private-sector jobs fell by 19.5 million, while production and nonsupervisory jobs fell by 18.1 million, far greater than proportionate to their shares of jobs in the economy. This means that the losses to managers and supervisory workers were relatively small in comparison.

Chart

Job losses in the last two months set us back two decades: Non-farm payroll employment levels, in thousands, 1989–April 2020

Date  Employment
Jan-1989 107161
Feb-1989 107427
Mar-1989 107621
Apr-1989 107791
May-1989 107913
Jun-1989 108027
Jul-1989 108069
Aug-1989 108120
Sep-1989 108369
Oct-1989 108476
Nov-1989 108752
Dec-1989 108836
Jan-1990 109199
Feb-1990 109435
Mar-1990 109644
Apr-1990 109686
May-1990 109839
Jun-1990 109856
Jul-1990 109824
Aug-1990 109616
Sep-1990 109518
Oct-1990 109367
Nov-1990 109214
Dec-1990 109166
Jan-1991 109055
Feb-1991 108734
Mar-1991 108574
Apr-1991 108364
May-1991 108249
Jun-1991 108334
Jul-1991 108292
Aug-1991 108310
Sep-1991 108336
Oct-1991 108357
Nov-1991 108296
Dec-1991 108328
Jan-1992 108369
Feb-1992 108311
Mar-1992 108365
Apr-1992 108519
May-1992 108649
Jun-1992 108715
Jul-1992 108793
Aug-1992 108925
Sep-1992 108959
Oct-1992 109139
Nov-1992 109272
Dec-1992 109495
Jan-1993 109794
Feb-1993 110044
Mar-1993 109994
Apr-1993 110296
May-1993 110568
Jun-1993 110749
Jul-1993 111055
Aug-1993 111206
Sep-1993 111448
Oct-1993 111733
Nov-1993 111984
Dec-1993 112314
Jan-1994 112595
Feb-1994 112781
Mar-1994 113242
Apr-1994 113586
May-1994 113921
Jun-1994 114238
Jul-1994 114610
Aug-1994 114896
Sep-1994 115247
Oct-1994 115458
Nov-1994 115869
Dec-1994 116165
Jan-1995 116501
Feb-1995 116697
Mar-1995 116907
Apr-1995 117069
May-1995 117049
Jun-1995 117286
Jul-1995 117380
Aug-1995 117634
Sep-1995 117875
Oct-1995 118031
Nov-1995 118175
Dec-1995 118320
Jan-1996 118316
Feb-1996 118739
Mar-1996 118993
Apr-1996 119158
May-1996 119486
Jun-1996 119769
Jul-1996 120015
Aug-1996 120199
Sep-1996 120410
Oct-1996 120665
Nov-1996 120961
Dec-1996 121143
Jan-1997 121363
Feb-1997 121675
Mar-1997 121990
Apr-1997 122286
May-1997 122546
Jun-1997 122814
Jul-1997 123111
Aug-1997 123093
Sep-1997 123585
Oct-1997 123929
Nov-1997 124235
Dec-1997 124549
Jan-1998 124812
Feb-1998 125016
Mar-1998 125164
Apr-1998 125442
May-1998 125844
Jun-1998 126076
Jul-1998 126205
Aug-1998 126544
Sep-1998 126752
Oct-1998 126954
Nov-1998 127231
Dec-1998 127596
Jan-1999 127702
Feb-1999 128120
Mar-1999 128227
Apr-1999 128597
May-1999 128808
Jun-1999 129089
Jul-1999 129414
Aug-1999 129569
Sep-1999 129772
Oct-1999 130177
Nov-1999 130466
Dec-1999 130772
Jan-2000 131005
Feb-2000 131124
Mar-2000 131596
Apr-2000 131888
May-2000 132105
Jun-2000 132061
Jul-2000 132236
Aug-2000 132230
Sep-2000 132353
Oct-2000 132351
Nov-2000 132556
Dec-2000 132709
Jan-2001 132698
Feb-2001 132789
Mar-2001 132747
Apr-2001 132463
May-2001 132410
Jun-2001 132299
Jul-2001 132177
Aug-2001 132028
Sep-2001 131771
Oct-2001 131454
Nov-2001 131142
Dec-2001 130982
Jan-2002 130852
Feb-2002 130736
Mar-2002 130717
Apr-2002 130623
May-2002 130634
Jun-2002 130684
Jul-2002 130590
Aug-2002 130587
Sep-2002 130501
Oct-2002 130628
Nov-2002 130615
Dec-2002 130472
Jan-2003 130580
Feb-2003 130444
Mar-2003 130232
Apr-2003 130177
May-2003 130196
Jun-2003 130194
Jul-2003 130191
Aug-2003 130149
Sep-2003 130254
Oct-2003 130454
Nov-2003 130474
Dec-2003 130588
Jan-2004 130769
Feb-2004 130825
Mar-2004 131142
Apr-2004 131411
May-2004 131694
Jun-2004 131793
Jul-2004 131848
Aug-2004 131937
Sep-2004 132093
Oct-2004 132447
Nov-2004 132503
Dec-2004 132624
Jan-2005 132774
Feb-2005 133032
Mar-2005 133156
Apr-2005 133518
May-2005 133690
Jun-2005 133942
Jul-2005 134296
Aug-2005 134498
Sep-2005 134566
Oct-2005 134655
Nov-2005 134993
Dec-2005 135149
Jan-2006 135429
Feb-2006 135737
Mar-2006 136047
Apr-2006 136205
May-2006 136244
Jun-2006 136325
Jul-2006 136520
Aug-2006 136694
Sep-2006 136843
Oct-2006 136852
Nov-2006 137063
Dec-2006 137249
Jan-2007 137477
Feb-2007 137558
Mar-2007 137793
Apr-2007 137842
May-2007 137993
Jun-2007 138069
Jul-2007 138038
Aug-2007 138015
Sep-2007 138095
Oct-2007 138174
Nov-2007 138284
Dec-2007 138392
Jan-2008 138403
Feb-2008 138324
Mar-2008 138275
Apr-2008 138035
May-2008 137858
Jun-2008 137687
Jul-2008 137491
Aug-2008 137213
Sep-2008 136753
Oct-2008 136272
Nov-2008 135545
Dec-2008 134839
Jan-2009 134055
Feb-2009 133312
Mar-2009 132512
Apr-2009 131817
May-2009 131475
Jun-2009 131008
Jul-2009 130668
Aug-2009 130485
Sep-2009 130244
Oct-2009 130045
Nov-2009 130057
Dec-2009 129788
Jan-2010 129790
Feb-2010 129698
Mar-2010 129879
Apr-2010 130110
May-2010 130650
Jun-2010 130511
Jul-2010 130427
Aug-2010 130422
Sep-2010 130357
Oct-2010 130625
Nov-2010 130750
Dec-2010 130822
Jan-2011 130841
Feb-2011 131053
Mar-2011 131288
Apr-2011 131602
May-2011 131703
Jun-2011 131939
Jul-2011 131999
Aug-2011 132125
Sep-2011 132358
Oct-2011 132562
Nov-2011 132694
Dec-2011 132896
Jan-2012 133250
Feb-2012 133512
Mar-2012 133752
Apr-2012 133834
May-2012 133934
Jun-2012 134007
Jul-2012 134159
Aug-2012 134331
Sep-2012 134518
Oct-2012 134677
Nov-2012 134833
Dec-2012 135072
Jan-2013 135263
Feb-2013 135541
Mar-2013 135680
Apr-2013 135871
May-2013 136093
Jun-2013 136274
Jul-2013 136386
Aug-2013 136628
Sep-2013 136815
Oct-2013 137040
Nov-2013 137304
Dec-2013 137373
Jan-2014 137548
Feb-2014 137714
Mar-2014 137968
Apr-2014 138293
May-2014 138511
Jun-2014 138837
Jul-2014 139069
Aug-2014 139257
Sep-2014 139566
Oct-2014 139818
Nov-2014 140109
Dec-2014 140377
Jan-2015 140568
Feb-2015 140839
Mar-2015 140910
Apr-2015 141194
May-2015 141525
Jun-2015 141699
Jul-2015 142001
Aug-2015 142126
Sep-2015 142281
Oct-2015 142587
Nov-2015 142824
Dec-2015 143097
Jan-2016 143170
Feb-2016 143433
Mar-2016 143662
Apr-2016 143849
May-2016 143891
Jun-2016 144158
Jul-2016 144512
Aug-2016 144647
Sep-2016 144916
Oct-2016 145061
Nov-2016 145212
Dec-2016 145442
Jan-2017 145627
Feb-2017 145815
Mar-2017 145944
Apr-2017 146141
May-2017 146296
Jun-2017 146512
Jul-2017 146727
Aug-2017 146911
Sep-2017 146929
Oct-2017 147196
Nov-2017 147421
Dec-2017 147551
Jan-2018 147672
Feb-2018 148078
Mar-2018 148254
Apr-2018 148391
May-2018 148669
Jun-2018 148888
Jul-2018 149024
Aug-2018 149268
Sep-2018 149348
Oct-2018 149549
Nov-2018 149683
Dec-2018 149865
Jan-2019 150134
Feb-2019 150135
Mar-2019 150282
Apr-2019 150492
May-2019 150577
Jun-2019 150759
Jul-2019 150953
Aug-2019 151160
Sep-2019 151368
Oct-2019 151553
Nov-2019 151814
Dec-2019 151998
Jan-2020 152212
Feb-2020 152463
Mar-2020 151090
Apr-2020 130403
May-2020 132912
ChartData Download data

The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.

Notes: Shaded areas denote recessions.

Source: EPI analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Employment Statistics public data series

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The unemployment rate rose faster than ever before, hitting 14.7% in April. Today’s unemployment rate is far in excess of the high water mark hit at the worst of the Great Recession, which topped out at 10.0% in 2009. It is the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. However, 78.3% of unemployed workers report being on temporary layoff, which is a positive sign when we get on the other side of the health crisis.

April’s unemployment rate is still an underestimate of the actual number of unemployed workers. It would be higher if all the people who lost their jobs had actually remained in the labor force. A large share of workers who have lost their jobs will very likely not be counted in the official unemployment rate because they won’t be actively looking for work. Given the nature of the pandemic, where we are all being told to stay away from work and all nonessential public activity, many laid-off workers will make the rational decision not to search for work until they get the all-clear from public health authorities. Those job losses will show up as a drop in the labor force, but will not show up as a spike in the unemployment rate. If they were included, the unemployment rate would have hit 19.0% in April.

Furthermore, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has warned us that many workers that they would have otherwise counted as unemployed will be reported as “employed but not at work.” If we count these workers as unemployed along with those who left the labor force, the unemployment rate would have been 23.5% in April.

Aggregate weekly work hours—which captures both the job losses plus the drop in hours worked—fell off a cliff in April, dropping 14.9% in just one month.

Nominal wages grew 7.9% over the year. I must advise readers and policymakers to look away from what appears to be a silver lining to today’s jobs report. At turning points in the economy, compositional effects tend to swamp any changes in wages within sectors or occupations or even workers grouped by educational attainment. While workers across the economy lost their jobs in April, many of the job losses were concentrated in lower-wage jobs. Therefore, stronger wage growth in April reflects the dropping of lower-wage jobs from the total, which results in higher average wages for the remaining jobs, and what appears to be faster overall growth, but not driven by people getting meaningful raises.

Congress needs to continue providing relief to workers and their families across the country. They need to extend expanded unemployment insurance until the labor market has sufficiently recovered and provide a huge amount of aid to state and local governments. The next relief package should also include worker protections, provide a paycheck guarantee, invest in our democracy, provide relief to the postal service, and make significant investments in testing and contact tracing.


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