US Loses 701K Jobs in March, Unemployment Climbs to 4.4%

Ending a steady streak of gains, the new figures are a strong hint at what's to come in April.
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The economic expansion of the last few years is officially a thing of the past. The U.S. unemployment rate rose to 4.4 percent in March, according to figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday morning, up 90 basis point month-over-month, the steepest such hike in 45 years. The U.S. economy lost 701,000 jobs last month, in stark contrast with the 275,000 positions gained in February. Around two-thirds of losses were registered in the leisure and hospitality sector.

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The new figures come on the heels of the unprecedented 10 million unemployment claims registered over the past two weeks, an early proxy for the evolution of the U.S. economy at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. And while April numbers will give us a much clearer idea of where the economy and commercial real estate are headed, early signs have determined many industry experts to foresee double-digit unemployment rates and a tedious recovery. 

Leisure, hospitality take a hit

As expected, leisure and hospitality took a hard hit due to social distancing and shelter-in-place measures taken across most U.S. states. With tourism ground to a halt and a large share of brick-and-mortar sales dropping, hotels were the first to feel the shock and retail closely followed. Food services and drinking places lost 417,000 jobs nationwide last month, while retail trade employment contracted by 46,000 positions and construction by 29,000 jobs. 

Meanwhile, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, and financial activities recorded little variation. Adding 17,000 workers for the 2020 census, government was the only sector to gain a significant number of positions, up by 18,000 jobs.

As many non-essential businesses across the country closed during the last week of March, this month’s figures are bound to reflect steeper drops. According to the New York Times, nearly 300 million people across at least 38 states48 counties14 citiesD.C. and Puerto Rico were being urged to stay home as of Thursday. Just two weeks earlier, California was the only state to have issued a stay-at-home order.