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A view of a closed business in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

U.S. economy loses 20.5 million jobs, unemployment rate rises to 14.7%

Janet Nguyen May 8, 2020
A view of a closed business in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Labor Department’s April jobs report showed that the U.S. economy lost 20.5 million jobs and the unemployment rate rose to 14.7%, which is the highest percentage since the Great Depression.

In 1933, the unemployment rate reached almost 25%. Last month’s rate also surpasses the Great Recession’s record high of 10%.

The period from 1929 to 1947 includes annual data of the civilian labor force age 14 and older. Beyond that year, data is monthly and refers to the civilian labor force age 16 and older.

The monthly change in employment also saw a record decline, surpassing the nearly 2 million job losses in 1945 during World War II, and the 800,000 in job losses during the Great Recession.

Other figures also show the damage caused by COVID-19, like the Labor Department’s weekly unemployment claims report. Since the crisis started, more than 33 million people have filed for unemployment. But like we’ve reported on in the past, these government figures are only a snapshot. 

The standard definition of an unemployed person is someone who hasn’t had paid work and has been actively looking for a job, but many have now been laid off or left their jobs and aren’t looking for new ones, wrote Marketplace’s Mitchell Hartman. 

Along with job losses, many Americans are also facing a decline in income. About 26% of Americans who are currently working say they’ve experienced a paycut, while 36% are working fewer hours, according to our Marketplace-Edison Research poll.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What are the details of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan?

The $1.9 trillion plan would aim to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. It would also include $1,400 checks for most Americans. Get the rest of the specifics here.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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