US employment plunges in March amid worsening coronavirus damage


WASHINGTON As the US economy craters, crippled by coronavirus shutdowns, businesses jettisoned jobs at an alarming rate last month, government data showed Friday, and the situation will get dramatically worse. US employment plunged by 701,000 in March and the jobless rate surged to 4.4 percent, the Labor Department reported. Yet the department acknowledged its statistics could not yet capture the full extent of the damage, and its own weekly data on firsttime claims for jobless benefits showed 10 million people lost their jobs in the last two weeks of the month. With COVID-19 cases topping a million worldwide, a quarter of which are in the United States where the death toll is over 6,000, cities have turned into ghost towns and officials are struggling to find ways to ease the ruinous damage to the economy and individuals. “The drop in payrolls in March was unprecedented for the start of a recession and will get more than twenty times worse in April,” said Diane Swonk of Grant Thornton. “We will easily lose more than twice as many jobs as we lost during the Great Recession during the first two months of this crisis alone,” she said in an analysis. The monthly report reveals the worst monthly job loss since the depths of the global financial crisis in March 2009 and the biggest singlemonth jump in the jobless rate in more than 45 years. However, the Labor Department said it “cannot precisely quantify the effects of the pandemic on the job market in March,” and errors in counting those who lost jobs mean the unemployment rate was likely a full point higher. Economists predict the figures in April will be devastating, with a double digit unemployment rate and as many as 20 million jobs destroyed. The leisure and hospitality sector — among the first to feel the impact of the travel restrictions imposed to contain the virus — lost 459,000 jobs last month, the report said. But the harm was widespread and notable losses also were recorded in healthcare, retail and business services. The data were released on the same day as the government began a new program to encourage businesses to retain workers and rehire those who were laid off. —APP