20.5 million lose their jobs in April, sending U.S. unemployment rate to 14.7%, an 80-year high

May 8, 2020, 1:09 PM UTC

The U.S. unemployment rate climbed from 4.4% in March to a staggering 14.7% in April—the highest since 1940.

The jobs report released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on Friday showed that the number of unemployed Americans rose from 7.1 million in March to 23.1 million in April. These dismal payroll figures come just two months after the U.S. had been sitting, in February, at a 50-year low in the unemployment rate of 3.5%.

The 14.7% figure is actually lower than many expected. White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett had predicted the unemployment rate for April could come in at between 16% to 20%.

But this official unemployment rate undercounts the actual level of joblessness. The BLS defines the unemployed as people without jobs who are also looking for new positions. The current U.S. labor market is far more complicated than that. A Fortune-SurveyMonkey poll of 4,717 U.S. adults between April. 25-28 finds that 17% of workers who recently lost their jobs aren’t currently looking for work. Given the nature of the virus and the stay-at-home orders, some laid-off workers may be waiting it out before starting their job search.

“If everyone who filed unemployment insurance claims showed up as unemployed it would be a much higher unemployment rate,” Dante DeAntonio, an economist at Moody’s Analytics. Around 7 million of those initial jobless claims came after this rate was compiled April.

And keep in mind that this unemployment rate is through just mid-April. If you included everyone who has filed jobless claims since that week, the real unemployment could be sitting at a rate of 24.9%. That’s just under the Great Depression peak of an unemployment rate topped 25.6%.

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