The meltdown of the American workforce occurred with startling speed. In February, unemployment was at a more-than-50-year low of 3.5%, and the economy had added jobs every month for a record 9 1/2 years. In March, unemployment was 4.4%.
Job gains among African Americans and Latinos was considered among the bright spots of the job market. Even President Trump consistently used the number as an answer to why minorities should support him.
In March, analysts were reporting that the coronavirus pandemic would hit African Americans and Latinos harder than any other race. Those predictions have become fact. Black unemployment has more than doubled to 16.7%. That’s the highest rate for African Americans workers since 2010.
According to The New York Times, the unemployment rate for Hispanic or Latino topped the African-American rate, jumping to 18.9%. The rate for the country as a whole has risen from less than 4% in February to 14.7% in April.
In just two months America’s unemployment rate has gone from the lowest rate in 50 years to the highest rate in 80 years. The last time unemployment was this high was in 1939, at the tail end of the Depression, before the U.S. entered World War II.
According to MarketWatch, the actual numbers could be worse. States are just beginning to report gig workers, freelance writers, and independent contractors. These workers were previously unqualified for unemployment benefits, but an emergency relief law passed last month changed eligibility standards.
In a sort of footnote, the Labor Department acknowledged that its survey-takers erroneously classified millions of Americans as employed in April even though their employers had closed down. If they had been counted correctly, unemployment would have been nearly 20%, the government said.
Also, people who are out of work but aren’t actually looking for a new job are not officially counted as unemployed. An estimated 6.4 million people lost jobs last month but did not search for new ones, probably because they saw little prospect of finding work with the economy shut down.
Counting them as unemployed would push the rate up further, to almost 24%, according to calculations by Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that the jobless rate will still be 9.5% by the end of 2021.