Economy lost 701K jobs in March, ending record streak

Various window signs in Missoula note area closures, changes to operating hours and business. (William Munoz/Missoula Current)

(CN) – Ending a record decade-long streak of employment growth, the U.S. economy lost 701,000 jobs in March as the coronavirus pandemic triggered a nationwide shutdown.

Last month marked the first time since September 2010 that the economy lost more jobs than it gained. The unemployment rate moved up from a 50-year low of 3.5% to 4.4%, according to a Labor Department report released Friday.

Elise Gould, senior economist at the nonprofit think tank Economic Policy Institute, said the massive loss represents “just the leading edge of the deep recession we are certainly now in,” noting the report only reflects the state of the labor market through mid-March.

“We won’t see the devastating job losses or large reductions in hours from Covid-19 in the employment data until the next report on May 8,” she said. “Then we will see what’s happened across the economy in terms of not only total employment, but also important labor market measures such an unemployment, underemployment, and labor force participation across and within demographic groups such as age, gender, race and ethnicity, and education.”

Friday’s jobs report, in addition to the news the day before that 6.6 million people applied for unemployment insurance benefits over the last week, means lawmakers must act fast to limit the economic damage caused by the outbreak, Gould said. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that nearly 20 million jobs could be lost by the summer.

“Congress should now turn to crafting another relief package that includes a large and much-needed infusion of state and local aid, continues cash assistance to households beyond a single payment, and extends the unemployment insurance provisions in the earlier bill with explicit triggers-off tied to economic conditions,” Gould said.