US non-farm payrolls decreased by 700,001 in March, abruptly ending a historic 113 straight months of employment increases as businesses and factories closed amid stringent measures to control the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The brutal job numbers, the first decline since 2010, signal the end of the longest expansion in US history and confirm a recession is underway.
The unemployment rate rose to 4.4%, up from 3.5% in February when 273,000 new payrolls were added. For March, economists had expected a decline of just 100,000 jobs.
The Labor Department’s employment report on Friday doesn’t fully reflect the economic carnage being inflected by the contagious coronavirus. The government surveyed businesses and households for the report in mid-March, before a large section of the population was under some form of a lockdown, throwing millions out of work.
The report will sharpen criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of the public health crisis, with President Trump himself facing criticism for playing down the threat of the pandemic in its initial phases.
Already, data have shown a record 10 million Americans filed claims for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks of March.
The US has the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, with more than 214,000 people infected. Nearly 5,000 people in the country have died from the illness, according to a Reuters tally.
Dow futures were down 0.32% to 21,204 following the release of the report.