May 7, 2020 - Economy & Business

The April jobs report will be bleak, but revealing

An illustration of empty classified section in a newspaper.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The April jobs report comes tomorrow. It will be almost incomprehensibly grim.

Why it matters: The report will tell us a lot of what we don't know about the coronavirus-ravaged job market: how widespread the job losses are by industry and demographic, how many layoffs are temporary, and whether worker pay has been cut.

The headline number will be the unemployment rate, which is expected to hit 16%. The best estimate for peak unemployment during the Great Depression is that the number hit 25%.

  • In two months, the rate will have more than quadrupled.
  • 22 million net jobs are expected to have been lost during the Labor Department's survey period, which ended in mid-April.

Of note: You're only counted as unemployed if you're actively looking for work. But because of state-imposed lockdowns, many Americans aren't looking for work.

  • Broader measures of joblessnesslike the U6 — may paint a more useful, and even bleaker, picture.

The bottom line: Economists warn the key figures from the report may understate the devastation of job losses.

  • The report "wasn't designed for a pandemic, and it is unclear how well it will capture all the unusual nuances that the current crisis presents," as the New York Times points out.
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