Washington, Jun 5 (efe-epa).- The United States’ official unemployment rate in May fell unexpectedly to 13.3 percent, down from a more than 80-year-old high of 14.7 percent in April, the Labor Department said Friday.
That encouraging decline reflected an employment increase of 2.5 million last month, as businesses responded to an easing of coronavirus-triggered stay-at-home orders and closures of non-essential businesses by expanding their payrolls.
It follows worrying jobs reports in March and April, when non-farm payroll employment fell by a downwardly revised 1.4 million and 20.7 million, respectively.
The figures from the department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics easily beat the expectations of leading economists, who had forecast a net loss of 800,000 jobs and a further rise in the unemployment rate to 19.8 percent.
Even so, the double-digit jobless rate still contrasts sharply with the May 2019 unemployment rate of 3.6 percent.
“These improvements in the labor market reflected a limited resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed in March and April due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and efforts to contain it,” the BLS said.
“In May, employment rose sharply in leisure and hospitality, construction, education and health services and retail trade,” the bureau said. “By contrast, employment in government continued to decline sharply.”
One sector that has been battered by the coronavirus crisis has been health care.
In April, health-care employment declined by 1.4 million, led by losses in offices of dentists, offices of physicians and offices of other health care practitioners.
But payrolls started making a comeback with the easing of the lockdowns, with the most notable gains coming in offices of dentists (up by 245,000), offices of other health practitioners (up 73,000) and offices of physicians (up 51,000).
But nursing and residential care facilities and hospitals continued to bleed jobs in May, with payrolls falling by 37,000 and 27,000, respectively.
The official unemployment rate, also known as U-3, is just one of several measures of labor underutilization.
The U-6 measure, which includes people working part-time who would prefer a full-time position and workers who have given up looking for a job, came in at 21.2 percent last month, down from 22.8 percent in April but much higher than the 6.7 percent rate in May 2019.
Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia hailed the May jobs report.
“Today’s report shows much higher job creation and lower unemployment than expected, reflecting that the re-opening of the economy in May was earlier, and more robust, than projected,” he said.
“Millions of Americans are still out of work, and the department remains focused on bringing Americans safely back to work and helping states deliver unemployment benefits to those who need them. However, it appears the worst of the coronavirus’s impact on the nation’s job markets is behind us.”
The coronavirus crisis has had a massive impact on an unemployment rate that had been touted by President Donald Trump as one of his administration’s most notable achievements.
The official unemployment rate in April of 14.7 percent was the highest since the Great Depression of the 1930s and stood in sharp contrast to February’s jobless rate of 3.5 percent, which was a 50-year low.
US stocks rose sharply as a result of the encouraging employment news, with the blue-chip Dow 30 index up more than 3.5 percent shortly before midday.
Trump celebrated the jobs result on Twitter in his inimitable fashion.