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President Trump speaking in the Rose Garden following the release of the jobs report on May 5, 2020. Photo: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Economists were projecting that May's jobs figures would show a loss of 8 million jobs and an unemployment rate approaching 20% — Great Depression territory.

The state of play: Instead, a record 2.5 million workers were added, and unemployment fell to 13.3% from April's post-World War II high of 14.7%.

  • Wall Street loved it: The Dow and S&P enjoyed the best week in two months; the NASDAQ 100 set a record. (CNBC)

This was the biggest-ever Jobs Day whiff by forecasters:

  • Before Friday, Bloomberg News reports, "the biggest single-month miss on the payrolls report was 318,000 in February 2003, according to Bloomberg survey data going back to 1996."

How it happened: Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, told Bloomberg that this economic downturn — sharp and swift due to the shutdown — is "a very, very different animal" than other downturns.

  • Forecasters "have to remain humble in the face of all the tremendous uncertainty," Daco said.

Reality check: Uncertainty about the data and the nation's real economy has led to fears that the stunning report was a head fake.

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics said in Friday's fine print that a "misclassification error" by surveyors means the actual unemployment rate could have been "about 3 percentage points higher than reported," not seasonally adjusted. (Go deeper.)

Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York, told Reuters: "It took years for the economy to grow enough to find jobs for those unemployed in the last recession, and it will take years again this time to do the same."

Go deeper

Updated Oct 16, 2020 - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates

Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Note: Does not include probable deaths from New York City; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The U.S. surpassed 8 million coronavirus cases on Friday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: Coronavirus infections jumped by almost 17% over the past week as the number of new cases across the country increased in 38 states and Washington, D.C., according to a seven-day average tracked by Axios.

Unreliable data is complicating the unemployment crisis

Data: Department of Labor; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The U.S. unemployment picture looks to be improving but it's increasingly being clouded by shoddy data, a problem that seems to be getting worse as the pandemic progresses.

What's happening: The number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits rose to 29.2 million for the latest week of data, the Department of Labor announced Thursday.

The stock market had its worst day in months, but no one is quite sure why

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Nasdaq fell 5% on Thursday, its worst decline since March, and the S&P 500 had its worst session since June, but no one was quite sure why.

What happened: Fund managers and strategists posited that profit taking or rebalancing was to blame as no fundamental drivers for the sell-off were apparent and it remains unclear whether Thursday was a fluke or the beginning of retrenchment from what most Wall Street analysts viewed as an overextended market.