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For additional information relating to this article, please contact:

Thomas StorringDirector – Economics and Statistics
Tel: 902-424-2410Email:

May 08, 2020

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an extreme decline in US non-farm payroll employment, falling by 20.5 million from March to April.  US employment has fallen back to the employment level observed in early 2011. 

The US unemployment rate has risen sharply to 14.7 per cent.  

The magnitude of the US March to April employment decline is unprecedented.  The monthly employment decline of 870,000 from February to March was comparable to the steepest declines during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.  The employment decline from March to April is larger than the entire employment decline (peak to trough) of the global financial crisis.

The drop in US employment is 13.5 per cent of the previous month's employment.  Previously the largest recorded employment decline in statistics going back to 1939 was observed at the end of the Second World War, when US nonfarm employment fell by 4.8 per cent in a single month.

US employment decline was pervasive across all industries. 

  • Employment in leisure and hospitality industries was down 7.7 million or 47 per cent from March to April.  Food services and drinking places accounted for 75 per cent of the reduction.  Employment in arts, entertainment and recreation (part of the US leisure and hospitality industry) were down 1.3 million.  Accommodation employment declined by 839,000. 
  • Employment was down 1.4 million in US health care
  • Social assistance employment was down by 651,000 (child care and family services)
  • Employment fell by 457,000 in private education
  • Professional/business services declined by 2.1 million (especially temporary help services)
  • Retail trade shed 2.1 million jobs (especially clothing and motor vehicle dealers)
  • Other service industry employment fell 1.3 million, concentrated in personal services and laundry
  • Manufacturing employment declined 1.3 million, concentrated in auto production, fabricated metals and machinery. 
  • Government employment declined by 980,000, concentrated in local government school closures
  • Construction employment was down 975,000. 
  • Transportation and warehousing employment fell 584,000
  • Wholesale trade employment was down 363,000
  • Financial activities employment was down 262,000
  • Information industry employment declined 254,000
  • Mining employment was down 46,000 

Note that the US establishment survey used to estimate nonfarm payroll does not consider a respondent to be employed it they are temporarily or permanently absent from their job.  

The US unemployment rate increased by 10.3 percentage points to 14.7 per cent in April. This is the highest unemployment rate and largest increase in a data series going back to 1948.  US unemployment increased by 15.9 million to 23.1 million in April.  

Household survey results used to establish the unemployment rate considers a respondent to be unemployed on temporary layoff if they were not working during the entire survey reference week (April 12-18) but expected to be recalled.  US respondents who were employed, but absent from work because of COVID-19 were classified as unemployed on temporary layoff.  April results show an extremely large rise in those unemployed on temporary layoff.  If the US unemployment rate were calculated treating those who are recorded as employed but absent from work for "other" reasons (above what is observed in a typical April), the US unemployment rate would have been almost 5 percentage points higher. 

The US participation rate declined to 60.2 per cent of the working age population.  This is the lowest rate since January 1973.

The US employment to population ratio was down sharply to 51.3 per cent in April, a fall of 8.7 percentage points.  This is the lowest employment rate and largest monthly decline in data going back to 1948.

The reference week for the US household survey was April 12th through April 18th.  Household survey response rates were down while establishment survey response rates were similar to pre-COVID-19 levels.

Note: Canadian and US labour force statistics refer to different working-age cohorts.

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics news releaseCommissioner's Statement on the Employment Situation

Statistics Canada.  Table  14-10-0287-01   Labour force characteristics, monthly, seasonally adjusted and trend-cycle

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