U.S. Unemployment Just Hit Its Highest Level Since The Great Depression

The American job market is in full-on meltdown.
unemployment coronavirus depression
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

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WASHINGTON — The American job market is in full-on meltdown.

Fresh joblessness figures released Friday show the coronavirus pushed U.S. unemployment to a staggering 14.7% in the worst decline in payrolls since the Great Depression.

And the country got there in just one month. Back in March, the rate was 4.4%.

The white-knuckle plunge has been faster and deeper than any other period of swift job losses since officials started keeping track, and has already far eclipsed the worst of the 2009 great recession. The U.S. has lost 20.5 million jobs in the pandemic, according to the new numbers from the federal government.


The true damage has been worse than even those numbers indicate, since many people have also seen their hours or wages slashed.

Companies have shed jobs at warp speed because stay-at-home orders meant consumer purchases, the lifeblood of the American economy, halted overnight, along with other vital parts of U.S. economic activity.

The grim numbers were a little better than economists had expected. A survey by The Wall Street Journal had predicted that unemployment would hit 16%.

Now, economists say widespread unemployment may prove painfully slow to recover, even if the virus recedes, and psychologists are warning of a looming tsunami of mental health trouble as millions of individuals grapple with what it means to be out of a job and unable to provide for their families.

President Trump has suggested a speedy recovery might be just around the corner, a rosy prediction many economists dismiss as happy talk. On Friday he downplayed the historically gruesome numbers as “no surprise,” and promised he’d get Americans back to work.

“It’s fully expected,” he said during an appearance on Fox & Friends. “Those jobs will be back.”

The new numbers shattered the record of the worst unemployment rate ever achieved after World War 2, which was 10.8% in 1982. Economists estimate that unemployment maxed out in the Great Depression at about 24.9% in 1933, but officials didn’t start keeping records until a few years later.

The previous worst single month for job losses since economists started keeping close track of that figure was about 2 million jobs at the very end of World War 2 in 1945, when companies were shedding wartime hires.

Cover: A pedestrian walks by The Framing Gallery, closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in Grosse Pointe, Mich., Thursday, May 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)