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.
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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

Stimulus outlook takes a hit even as coronavirus cases skyrocket

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals

The pandemic is getting worse, and the question is whether the economic recovery will go with it.

Why it matters: America adding 7.5 million jobs over the last two months pales in comparison to 20+ million lost over the two months prior.

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