Since this U.S. economic nosedive is, as the Monty Python crew liked to say, “completely different,” this post will depart from its usual format, too – by trying to provide some perspective on today’s horrendous (March) employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Unfortunately, this perspective isn’t terribly comforting.
First, three reminders:
>The insanely astronomical number of jobless claims applications filed in the last two weeks make clear that at least in the near future, the employment situation will become much worse. Specifically, these claims numbers have totaled some 10 million in the last two weeks alone. That’s 7.75 percent of the entire private sector workforce as of the March figures.
>Similarly, as with all the monthly U.S. jobs reports, the March number described the situation only as of mid-month. Most of the economy and broader American CCP Virus-related shutdown measures were mandated or suggested afterwards.
>And in this vein, this morning’s March data were only preliminary. They’ll be revised twice more in the next two months, and then the full-year 2020 results will be revised. Indeed, the job creation figures for January and February (which were still decidedly strong) were downgraded by 57,000 in all.
Having cleared away that brush, it’s still interesting to note that, however terrible the new numbers are – and however terrible-er they’re bound to get – so far the March jobs meltdown hasn’t been as bad as the monthly nosedives suffered during the Great Recession. But it’s already way too close for comfort.
Whereas total nonfarm jobs (the BLS’ U.S. jobs universe) fell on month in March by 701,000, during the previous decade’s punishing downturn, that figure was topped no less than four times, and peaked at 784,000 in January, 2009.
Moreover, no sequential employment growth returned till that November, and it hit just 12,000. Worse, the very next month, payrolls sank by 269,000. The bottom was finally hit in February, and jobs growth recovered slowly afterwards, in fits and starts. Year-on-year employment gains didn’t reemerge until September.
As for private sector jobs, last month’s 713,000 collapse was exceeded during the Great Recession five times, with the worst results coming in April, 2009 (when 812,000 jobs were wiped out).
Private sector employment bottomed in February, 2010, too, and also rebounded sluggishly unevenly, with year-on-year gains coming only in August.
All told, 8.698 million jobs were lost from the onset of the Great Recession (December, 2007) to that February, 2010 trough. For the private sector, the losses totaled 8.794 million. Both figures are alarmingly close to the sum of the last two weeks’ jobless claims.
Interestingly, manufacturing jobs fell by only 18,000 sequentially in March. And on a yearly basis, they’re actually up by 12,000.
But since so many customers for American manufacturers are the workers who are being sidelined, and their former employers who are closing their doors or scaling their operations way back, these numbers, too, are bound to skyrocket.
Will a recovery in manufacturing and overall employment come even as quickly as after the Great Recession (which, again, wasn’t so quick)? Because this slump really is so “completely different” due to its biological origins, that’s the $64,000 Question. Given that a virus second wave is distinctly possible before vaccines or cures are ready, and given that normality as a result is only likely to return slowly to any business or consumer activity that requires close person-to-person proximity, there’s room for plenty of doubt.