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The US economy lost 701,000 jobs in March — worst report since 2009

In March, the economy shed 701,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was the first time the economy lost jobs in a month since September 2010. Last month was the worst for American jobs since March 2009.

The unemployment rate inched up to 4.4%, from a near 50-year low of 3.5%. It was the highest unemployment rate since August 2017, and the largest single-month change in the jobless rate since January 1975.

Most of the job destruction took place at restaurants and bars, where the economy lost 417,400 jobs. Retailers cut 46,200 jobs and health care employment fell by 43,000 jobs as routine visits at dentists, and physicians offices fell.

If there’s an ounce of good news in the March report, it’s that bulk of the layoffs were temporary: 1.8 million people were unemployed temporarily last month, up from 1 million in February.

The jobs situation could get far worse

But the labor market will probably start to look a whole lot worse starting next month.

The numbers in the jobs report come from two surveys. A survey of 60,000 households and a survey of 145,000 businesses and govt agencies. Those surveys are conducted during the week including the 12th day of the month, which in this case was the second week in March. Business closures and stay-at-home orders were only just beginning that week, and didn’t really pick up steam until the week after.

The April jobs report, which won’t be released until May 8, could include the nearly 10 million Americans who filed for first-time unemployment benefits as the outbreak forced businesses to close and people to stay home.

In many states, people can file for unemployment benefits if they were furloughed or their hours were cut, so this doesn’t necessarily mean all 10 million people lost their jobs completely. But claims for unemployment benefits, which are released every Thursday morning, are probably a better real-time indicator of pain in the labor market than the monthly jobs report.

The US unemployment rate could soar significantly higher, too. In the Labor Department’s monthly jobs report, people can be characterized as “unemployed” as long they are available to work, looked for a job in the last four weeks and didn’t find one. That’s regardless of whether they filed for benefits or not.

How bad could it get?

One of the worst predictions comes from the St. Louis Fed, which has predicted unemployment could rise above 30% for example. If that happens, that will be higher than in the Great Depression. The unemployment rate peaked at 24.9% in 1933, according to historical estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The highest the unemployment rate went in the Great Recession was 10% in October 2009.

Goldman Sachs economists predict the jobless rate will reach 15% by midyear. Ian Shepherdson from Pantheon Macroeconomics expects layoffs to soar as high as 20 million and an unemployment rate rising between 13% and 16% based on analysis of Google search history for “unemployment” along with all the regular government statistics. The unemployment rate could hit 10.1% in April, according to Paul Ashworth of Capitol Economics.

The Congressional Budget Office expects the unemployment rate to climb past 10% in the second quarter, it said Thursday.

— CNN’s Christine Romans contributed to this report

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