Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 13.3% in May, with 2.5 million jobs gained, the government said on Friday.

Why it matters: The far better-than-expected numbers show a surprising improvement in the job market, which has been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

What they're saying: "These improvements in the labor market reflected a limited resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed in March and April," the government said in a release on Friday.

  • The job gains may also reflect that the Paycheck Protection Program, meant to shore up the employees of small businesses, had an effect on the labor market.
  • Economists were expecting the unemployment rate to surge to nearly 20%, with a net loss of around 8 million jobs.
  • Stocks — which have been staging a comeback, despite weekly reports of historically high unemployment filings — jumped on the report in pre-market trading.
Expand chart
Source: FRED; Chart: Axios Visuals

By the numbers: The leisure and hospitality sector — among the hardest hit by the economic lockdown— gained the most jobs last month: 1.2 million, after losing 7.5 million in April.

  • Government saw the biggest shedding of jobs (585,000).

Of note: 1.5 million Americans left the labor force, meaning they gave up looking for work, between April and May.

  • The government also said that if certain workers who were classified as "employed" even though they weren't at work were actually classified as unemployed, the unemployment rate would have been 16.3%.

The big picture: The report comes at a time when economic inequality is at the forefront of the public mood amid nationwide protests over systemic racism and police brutality.

Worth noting: A return to pre-pandemic rates of joblessness is expected to take a long time.

  • "It will take years, probably a decade to get back to where we were at the end of last year," Sung Won Sohn, a Loyola Marymount University professor told Reuters.

Go deeper

Sep 16, 2020 - Health

CDC director suggests face masks offer more COVID-19 protection than vaccine would

CDC director Robert Redfield suggested in a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday that face masks are "more guaranteed" to protect against the coronavirus than a vaccine, citing the potential for some people to not become immune to the virus after receiving the shot.

What he's saying: "These face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have. And I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings. I've said if we did it for 6, 8, 10, 12 weeks, we'd bring this pandemic under control," he said.

NYC mayor to furlough employees for a week, including himself

Bill de Blasio attends the 9/11 Memorial & Museum on Sept. 11. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday that all employees in his office, including himself, will be subject to a one-week furlough sometime between October and March.

The big picture: The pandemic is on pace to hit cities' finances even harder than the Great Recession. Many face no choice but to cut services, layoff or furlough workers and freeze capital projects.

Poll: Biden beats Trump on health care, but it's not the top issue

Reproduced from the Kaiser Family Foundation; Chart: Axios Visuals

Swing voters in three swing states prefer Joe Biden over President Trump on health care and the coronavirus — but those aren't their most important issues, according to the latest KFF-Cook Political Report poll.

The big picture: The economy is the most important issue to these voters, and they give the advantage there to Trump. But Biden dominates the next tier of issues in this poll of swing voters in Arizona, Florida and North Carolina.