Non-farm payroll employment fell for the first time in a decade over the first two weeks of March, with employment dropping by 701,000 and the unemployment rate rising to 4.4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The real estate sector — which includes rental and leasing — lost 3,400 jobs in the first two weeks of March.
Those numbers fail to tell the whole story, however, as they don’t reflect the nearly 10 million unemployment claims filed over the past two weeks.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment in pleasure and hospitality fell by 459,000 in food and drink service. It also reported notable payroll declines in healthcare, social assistance, professional business services, retail trade and construction.
The 0.9 percentage point increase in unemployment is the largest month-over-month increase in the unemployment rate since January 1975. But an explainer accompanying the numbers qualifies that these numbers do not show the full impact that shelter-in-place orders across the country have had on unemployment.
“We cannot precisely quantify the effects of the pandemic on the job market in March,” the report states. “However, it is clear that the decrease in employment and hours and the increase in unemployment can be ascribed to the effects of the illness and efforts to contain the virus.”
“It is important to keep in mind that the March survey reference periods for both surveys predated many coronavirus-related business and school closures in the second half of the month.”
Justin Wolfers, an economist at the University of Michigan, estimated in the New York Times that the unemployment rate today likely sits around 13 percent, the highest since The Great Depression.
Mark Fleming, the chief economist at First American called it a “great recession for the services industry,” but also noted that housing wasn’t immune to the increase in unemployment. While many stay-at-home-orders exempt construction, the homebuilding and remodeling industry lost 4,500 jobs.
Lawrence Yun, the chief economist at the National Association of Realtors said the construction industry losses were mostly related to commercial real estate.
“Residential home construction jobs were steady and higher by 27,000 from a year ago for actual building construction and higher by 44,000 among general contractors,” Yun said, in a statement. “We had a housing shortage before going into the crisis and home builders were gearing up to relieve the inventory tightness.”