A new estimate from economists at the St. Louis Fed project total COVID-19 Crisis employment reductions at 47 million people. That would translate into a 32.1% unemployment rate. To give some perspective that is significantly higher than the peak unemployment during the Great Depression (24.9%) and wildly higher than anything seen during the Great Recession (10%).
There are some very important caveats. The first is that the author of the study calls it a “back-of-the-envelope” projection – again, known unknowns. Toward the end of the report the author notes that different modeling assumptions produce ranges of unemployment from 10.5% and 40.6%. Which is to say, very high normal to higher than anyone has ever imagined, a big range.
More concretely it does not factor in the impact of the crisis response bill that just became law. That should significantly off-set the numbers. The unemployment insurance provisions should also buoy spending power even for people who are out of work. The final point is that that depth of unemployment is expected to be brief, at least in this study. (I’m less sure of that point.)
For all this though these are stunning numbers that put some estimates to the scale of a truly historic public health and economic crisis.