US unemployment report won’t show full extent of pandemic’s damage

WASHINGTON (AFP) – A staggering 10 million United States (US) workers have lost their jobs in the second half of March as the coronavirus forced stores and businesses nationwide to close their doors.

But those losses, which are expected to get worse, will not be fully reflected in yesterday’s all-important government employment report for March.

The latest data have left analysts at a loss for words as they try to gauge the damage, while politicians and economists blame policymakers and US President Donald Trump for failing to prepare the country for the unprecedented economic hit.

Another 6.65 million US workers filed for unemployment benefits for the first time last week, the most ever recorded, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.

The tally for the week ended on March 28 was double the amount registered in the previous week, which was revised up by 24,000 to 3.3 million.

The result far surpassed even the highest of estimates by economists, and reflected the growing damage to the US economy as the pandemic worsens – with more than one million confirmed cases worldwide – and the rising death toll prompts more states to impose lockdowns.

However, because of how the Labor Department calculates the monthly jobs report, economists expect it will show a paltry drop of 150,000.

The report looks at payroll data in the week including the 12th day of the month – which in March was before the most stringent lockdowns took effect, so it likely will reflect only some of the early layoffs in hotels and airlines.

And Florida, which relies heavily on the now-crippled tourism industry, resisted issuing a stay-at-home order until this week. The state received more jobless claims last week than the entire country did a year ago.

The unemployment rate is expected to worsen to four per cent from the 50-year low of 3.5 per cent, but that too will give an overly favourable picture of the labour market. The rate is expected to soar into the double digits in April, passing the worst moment of the 2008 global financial crisis.

Bustling cities have been turned into ghost towns, as COVID-19 restrictions have forced shops, hotels, restaurants, factories and offices to close, leaving grocery stores and hospitals the lone epicentres of activity.

Dressmaker Flor Hernandez sells face masks on street after losing her job, during the COVID-19 outbreak, in Los Angeles, California. PHOTO: AFP