According to the March jobs report just released today, 700,000 jobs were lost and the unemployment rate jumped up to 4.4 percent.
This is worse than past months’ reports but doesn’t seem so bad, and that’s because it’s not a real-time snapshot of the jobs market.
The monthly jobs report reflects data that is several weeks behind the current situation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics determines the unemployment rate by surveying households and asking Americans if they reported to work during the week of March 8-14. Many coronavirus-related shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders started the following week.
Yesterday, we received a more accurate picture of the jobs market from the weekly jobless claims, a signal of the number of layoffs. It rose to a record high as 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week. This was double the 3.3 million who sought benefits two weeks ago.
The April jobs report, set to be released May 8, would likely capture the spike in unemployment that we see in the jobless claims. Some economists are already projecting that the economy shed 20 million jobs and the unemployment rate will rise to a record-high level.
We can look at this March jobs report two ways: glass half full or half empty.
On the positive side, it’s a reminder of just how strong the jobs market was before the novel coronavirus landed on our nation’s doorstep and what we could get back to if the economy is able to resume.
Our unemployment rate hovered near a 50-year low. Women, minorities, and those with criminal records experienced historically-low unemployment rates. Wage gains were beefing up among the lowest-paid workers and even outpacing wage increases for managers and supervisors.
Our economy was robust, restaurants and bars were experiencing their best years of work, and workers could confidently leave their jobs to get a better one.
On the negative side, we have an unemployment number that masks the harsh realities of millions of U.S. workers. Workers from bartenders to factory workers have now seen opportunities vanish almost overnight.
Families may have suddenly lost their primary breadwinners. Some 40 percent of Americans don’t have $400 saved to cover an emergency bill, so a sudden layoff may be destabilizing for a plurality of households.
This is a job for the private sector, public sector and civil society to come together to address the immediate and long-term needs of American workers.
Good questions to ask: How can we keep as many workers on payrolls until businesses can reopen? How can public aid be targeted to those who truly need the help? How can we help our neighbors, friends, and family members in their time of need?
Some large employers are stepping up and taking losses to retain their workers. Major retailers and grocers are even providing temporary pay increases and leave benefits.
Washington has offered economic relief to small business owners, which employ nearly half of the U.S. workforce, in the form of low-interest loans that may become grants if used to pay and retain workers and other basic expenses.
Beginning today, small business owners and nonprofits can access that help. Here’s what they should know.
American families can also expect to receive stimulus checks (in the form of direct deposits) within the next couple of weeks according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. They hope this will help them stay financially afloat until workers can get back to work and shops and restaurants reopen for business.
Regular Americans are donating cash, food, and other goods to charities, crowdsourced online campaigns, or directly.
It may take a while for the pain from job losses to subside. Getting Americans back to work will depend on governments lifting shelter-in-place orders and reducing social distancing restrictions, once it’s safe to do so.
In the meantime, American creativity, generosity and common-sense policy will help those hurt financially to stay afloat. This is a time for all of us to come together. We are #InThisTogether.