No surprises in today’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s been obvious since last month’s report that this month’s would be a doozy. A seasonally adjusted 20.5 million jobs lost and an official unemployment rate of 14.7%, well over the worst of the Great Recession, but a rate still far from that of 1933, when unemployment peaked at 24.9%. All because of the need to shut down much of the economy to fight the coronavirus, which would not have been necessary if the Trump regime had taken action when it was warned in January. Two months ago, the unemployment rate was at a 50-year low of 3.5%. Another rate—which the bureau labels U6 and many economists view as a better measure of overall labor well-being—covers not just unemployed workers, but the underemployed and some discouraged workers as well. U6 for April rose from 8.7% to 22.8%.
Not included in those titanic rates are people who have left the labor force. In March that count was 1.63 million, a huge shift, but nothing like the 6.4 million tallied in April. Most of those people would still be in the workforce were it not for the shutdown. And many of those may not have been counted because they were out of work and hadn’t looked for a job in the past four weeks, which is the bureau’s definition of no longer in the work force even if the individuals still consider themselves part of it. The fact that so many left the labor force is one reason that unemployment rate isn’t considerably higher. Nonetheless, said James Sweeney, chief economist at Credit Suisse Group AG a day ahead of the BLS release: “This might be the worst macroeconomic data report in U.S. history.” He may have to supersede that assessment when the May report comes out June 5.
Huge as they are, some readers may wonder why the numbers aren’t much higher given the tens of millions who have applied for unemployment benefits.
One that score, a reminder: The two surveys the BLS uses to calculate job gains or losses and unemployment rates are completed around the 12th of each month. That means “April’s” report doesn’t include nearly three weeks’ work of April data. It’s actually a report on the second half of March and the first half of April. But in the final three weeks of April—up to May 2—11.4 million workers applied for unemployment benefits, joining the 22 million who had applied by April 12. In short, while today’s report ought to be more than enough to bounce everyone’s jaw off the floor, it doesn’t account for millions of the newly unemployed. That makes the actual job situation much worse than it appears as a result of the timing of the surveys.
Add in all the people who have applied for unemployment benefits in the past three weeks, plus the people laid off in those three weeks who aren’t eligible for benefits or think they aren’t, and the actual total may be somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 million out of work.
The SHituation that Trump Made
Clearly a lot of pain has arisen from the crucial social distancing and shutdown. Worse pain for essential workers risking their health on the job, and for the newly out of work who aren’t eligible for unemployment insurance benefits or other relief. As shown in the abundant stories published here, in other media, and on social media, the congressional legislation and appropriations enacted to reduce the pain in households and businesses have proved profoundly inadequate to accomplish their assigned task. Grave damage is being done because of this failure, and the wreckage is likely to afflict us, and the world economy, for years to come.
Exactly how the impacts will play out with the Trump regime and many state governors flat-out ignoring guidelines for a phased economic reopening is impossible to determine in any definitive manner. We are reduced to speculation based on too many variables, which is why experts are delivering so many different projections on what our circumstances will look like this July, December, May 2021, and beyond.
Here’s one speculation from Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo & Co., who said: “In the Great Depression, the vast majority of job losses were permanent. Today the vast majority of job losses are temporary.” Nonetheless, he added, “I don’t think we get back to 100% for at least a year, 18 months, and we’re not going to need as many workers if we’re not back at 100%.”
For thousands of years, human beings sacrificed other human beings—infants, virgins, war captives—to appease or gain the favor of the gods. What we are seeing now are human beings willing to sacrifice other humans because they think this will reignite economic prosperity. They aren’t sacrificing themselves, understand. It’s mostly low-wage essential workers, disproportionately people of color, without whom the economy would grind to a halt even if everybody else was working around the clock. People who, like those sacrificed by our distant ancestors, don’t get a choice.
RIDING ROUGHSHOD OVER THE EXPERTS
Epidemiologists have repeatedly warned what the health results could be. Trump and his minions reject their conclusions. They gamble that the still-rising coronavirus death toll won’t go high enough to spur governors to shut down again so they can pretend that Trump is right when he says his regime has done a “tremendous,” “amazing,” “incredible” job in dealing with this crisis. “Incredible” certainly can be applied to the White House’s maliciously incompetent pandemic response.
Trump attempted to bluster his way through the crisis in hopes it would disappear the way mentions of “climate change” have vanished from government reports in the past three years, and that he could ride into November with the economy still soaring. That deadly narcissistic choice of his is the reason so many of us are chewing ashes and dust, assuming we’re lucky not yet to have wound up on a ventilator or in a coffin.
Here are more data from the March jobs report:
The labor force participation rate fell from 62.7% to 60.2% The employment-population ratio fell to from 60.0% to 51.3%.
Unemployment rates differ by race and sex. (April percentages in bold; March percentages in [brackets and italics].) Adult men: 13% [4.0%]; Adult women: 15.5% [4.0%]; Whites: 14.2% [4.0%] ; Blacks: 16.7% [6.7%]; Asians: 14.5% [4.1%]; Hispanics: 18.9%[6.0%]; American Indians: Not counted monthly.
Hours & Wages:
• Average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees rose/fell in April by $1.04 an hour to $25.12.
• Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls in April rose $1.34 an hour to $30.01.
[Note: This huge leap isn’t because those still working got big raises, but rather a function of so many low-wage workers being laid off and thus skewing the averages much higher. This change is certain to mostly be temporary.]
• Average work week for all employees on nonfarm payrolls 0.1 hour to 34.2 hours in April.
• The manufacturing work week in April fell by 2.1 hours to 38.3 hours.
April job gains and losses for selected categories:
- Education and health services: -2,544,000
° Health care & social assistance: -2,086,000
- Professional and business services: -2,128,000
- Manufacturing: 1,330,000
- Temporary help services: -841,000
- Transportation & warehousing: -584,100
- Financial activities: -262,000
- Leisure & hospitality: -7,653,000
- Information: -254,000
- Retail trade: 2,106,000
- Construction: -975,000
- Mining and Logging: -50,000
- Government at all levels: -980,000
The bureau uses the Current Employment Survey of 142,000 business establishments at 689,000 individual worksites in its count of how many jobs are created each month and derives the unemployment rate from the Current Population Survey of 60,000 households. Since the final day of each survey falls around the 12th of each month, this month’s data actually measures jobs gained in the first part of February and the last part of January.