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Economy Loses 701,000 Jobs in March, Unemployment Surges to 4.4 Percent

Raul Gonzalez, Jr., 53 stacks chairs at his Mambos Cuban restaurant, which is being forced to close after 32 years, due to the coronavirus, Glendale, Calif., March 18, 2020. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

The U.S. economy lost more jobs than it gained last month for the first time in a decade as the coronavirus, and social distancing measures implemented to combat it, continue to wreak havoc on the economy, causing businesses to close and lay off workers.

Non-farm payrolls plummeted in March by 701,000, the first payroll decline since September, 2010, the Labor Department reported on Friday. The unemployment rate jumped to 4.4 percent, up from 3.5 percent in February and the highest level since August, 2017.

The March payroll decline approaches the worst month of the Great Recession, May, 2009, when job losses reached 800,000. The jobs report does not include the last two weeks of March, when most of the country went on lockdown and new unemployment claims spiked to a record high.

About ten million Americans made initial claims for unemployment benefits over the last two weeks of March, both weeks far outpacing the previous record of 700,000 claims filed in one week in 1982.

Economists had predicted job losses of 10,000 and a 3.7 percent unemployment rate for March. Before the pandemic, unemployment hovered at 3.5 percent, the lowest in more than half a century.

The leisure and hospitality industries have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic as Americans avoid traveling unnecessarily and 90 percent of the U.S. population is under stay at home orders from state and local governments. Those sectors suffered 459,000 job losses, including 417,000 from bars and restaurants.

Education and health services industries lost 76,000 jobs, and professional and business services lost 52,000 jobs. The smaller goods-producing industry lost 54,000 payrolls, while manufacturing industries lost 18,000.

Meanwhile, airlines have already lost billions of dollars due to declining ticket sales and have requested $60 billion in assistance from the government.

Projections for the coming months suggest March will not be the worst fallout from the coronavirus outbreak. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the unemployment rate will reach 10 percent during the second quarter.

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