U.S. Chamber Staff


May 08, 2020


April’s unemployment numbers are bad. Historically bad.

The coronavirus crisis drove payroll jobs down by 20.5 million. Total employment plunged 22.4 million, 14.4% down from the March total of 155.8 million.

And this contraction does not include the approximately 7.7 million whom the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported were counted as employed even though they were absent from work for the entire survey reference week but not counted as furloughed.

The unemployment rate skyrocketed to 14.7%, the greatest one month change in history, but would have been 19.7% if those 7.7 million extra absentees had been counted as furloughed.

No sector has been untouched, but some sectors were hammered harder than others as government-ordered closures or restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus affected some workers more directly than others. More than one quarter (26.8%) of the job losses came from bars and restaurants that were directly affected by closure orders. For sectors where sheltering employees had the practical option to continue working from home, the job losses were less. Workplaces deemed “essential” and exempt from closure mandates also fared better.

Employment in scenic and sightseeing transportation employment; amusements, gambling, and recreation; clothing and clothing accessories stores; laundry services; and dentist offices fell by more than half.

Motion pictures and sound recording; bars and restaurants; furniture stores; performing arts and spectator sports; accommodations; and apparel companies showed more than 40% employment declines.

The chart below shows how other sectors of the economy were affected.

The data is heart breaking, but it could have been worse. These numbers represent persons who were dropped from payrolls, but many remained on them even though their workplaces were closed.

For example, 39% of scenic and sightseeing transportation jobs were still on payrolls, perhaps with their benefits continued and pay reduced.

This may be due to the Payroll Protection Program–PPP–(since many of these establishments are small business) which Washington was wise to quickly pass into law.

Future small business surveys–like the MetLife and U.S. Chamber Small Business Index–and other data sources will shed more light on the positive impact of PPP.

These numbers don’t tell the whole story. They don’t illustrate the hardship felt by millions of Americans who are out of work or trying to keep their businesses afloat.

It’s imperative that leaders in government and the private sector continue working day and night to help our fellow Americans in need and do all we can to safely reopen our economy and put people back to work.

About the authors

U.S. Chamber Staff