U.S. economy shed 701,000 jobs in March, first decline in decade


U.S. employers cut 701,000 jobs in March, and the unemployment rate soared to 4.4 percent, showing the first job decline in a decade, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

“The changes in these measures reflect the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and efforts to contain it,” the bureau said.

Employment in leisure and hospitality fell by 459,000 in March, mainly in food services and drinking establishments, the report showed. Job losses also occurred in health care and social assistance, professional and business services, retail trade, and construction.

In the prior 12 months, nonfarm employment growth had averaged 196,000 per month, the bureau noted.

The unemployment rate in March surged by 0.9 percentage point to 4.4 percent, which is the largest over-the-month increase in the rate since January 1975.

Since September last year, the U.S. unemployment rate has been hovering near a historically low level, around 3.5 to 3.6 percent.

The bureau also noted that the March survey reference periods predated many coronavirus-related business and school closures that occurred in the second half of the month, indicating a further spike in numbers in the coming months.

The number of initial jobless claims in the United States soared to reach 6.65 million last week, doubling the record set a week earlier, the bureau reported on Thursday. In the previous week, the figure spiked by 3 million to reach a record 3.3 million.

“We are losing jobs faster” than previous analysis projected, “but much of that is attributed to much more aggressive shelter-in-place orders than we anticipated in early March,” Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University in Indiana, told Xinhua.

Hicks said he predicted a roughly 15 percent unemployment rate by the end of May.

Average hourly earnings for all private-sector workers in March rose 11 cents to 28.62 U.S. dollars. Over the last 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.1 percent. Enditem

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