Mar 26, 2020 - Economy & Business

How to understand the nightmare chart

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Source: St. Louis Fed; Chart: Axios Visuals

It's the most stunning chart of this crisis yet — the number of people filing for unemployment spiked to 3.3 million last week, a number unprecedented in U.S. history.

Why it matters: This is a picture of what happens when a huge swath of the economy comes to a very sudden stop. But it tells us very little about how bad this recession is turning out to be. We're not going to get useful data on that for another month or so.

The big picture: In a recession, millions of people become unemployed. But in a normal recession, that process can take months or even years. This time around, the layoffs are being squeezed into a matter of weeks.

  • By the numbers: If unemployment claims continue at this pace for another four weeks, we'll end up seeing half as many workers laid off as lost their jobs during the 2008–09 Great Recession. On the other hand, if these numbers continue for 16 weeks, it will be twice as bad. The only way to tell which way we're going is to wait and see.
  • The March jobs report, out on April 3, reports on employment from the second week of March — too early to reflect the impact of the coronavirus shutdown. The first post-crisis jobs report will be the April one, out on May 8.

What they're saying: In this recession, "It's like an umpire whistled all the players off the economic playing field," University of Michigan economics professor Justin Wolfers tells Axios. In order to get the much-coveted V-shaped recovery, he adds, "they need to be able to whistle us back on."

The bottom line: In order for government officials to be able to persuade Americans to go back to normal, we have to be able to trust them when they tell us that it is safe to do so.

Go deeper

The coronavirus jobs apocalypse is here

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits jumped to its highest level in two years for the week ending March 14, but that was nothing compared to the absolutely historic wave of job losses economists see coming.

The state of play: Goldman Sachs predicts that more than 2 million Americans will file for unemployment claims by next week, pointing to "an unprecedented surge in layoffs this week."

Go deeperArrowUpdated Mar 20, 2020 - Economy & Business

U.S. economy surprises with 273,000 jobs added in February

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. economy added 273,000 jobs in February — way more than the 175,000 economists expected — while the unemployment rate dipped to 3.5%, the government said Friday.

Why it matters: The labor market is adding jobs at a breakneck pace, but the numbers don’t take into account the worsening coronavirus outbreak that threatens the record-long stretch of job gains.

Why an effective quarantine is the lesser of two evils

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We've gone on holiday by mistake. And we're going to have to stay here for a while.

The big picture: During normal, scheduled holidays — the period between Christmas and New Year's, for instance, or all of August in France — GDP plunges to well below normal levels, no one much minds, and then economic activity bounces happily back again.