The U.S. economy lost 20.5 million jobs in April while unemployment rose to 14.7%, the Department of Labor reported on Friday morning. It’s the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression.
“This is the highest rate and the largest over-the-month increase in the history of the series (seasonally adjusted data are available back to January 1948),” the report said.
The unemployment report indicated that the vast majority of April’s job losses — roughly 90% — are considered temporary, a result of businesses that were forced to suddenly close but hope to reopen and recall their laid-off workers.
Whether most of those workers can return anytime soon, though, will be determined by how well policymakers, businesses and the public manage their response to the health crisis.
The collapse of the job market has occurred with stunning speed. As recently as February, the unemployment rate was a more than 50-year low of 3.5%, and employers had added jobs for a record 9 1/2 years. In March, unemployment was just 4.4%
The last time unemployment was this high was 1939, at the tail end of the Depression.
As bad as the numbers are, they don’t capture the full devastation wrought by the business shutdowns.
The Labor Department said its survey-takers erroneously classified millions of Americans as employed in April even though their employers had closed down. If they had been counted correctly, the unemployment rate would have been nearly 20%, the government said.