The Phoenix Flyer

National jobless rate soars to Great Depression levels, with the burden falling more heavily on women and minority workers

By: - May 8, 2020 2:10 pm

FL unemployment benefits system is overwhelmed and jobless workers can’t get their benefits. Credit: FL Department of Economic Opportunity.

With jobless rates not seen since the Great Depression, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday that 20.5 million American workers lost their jobs in April, bringing the national unemployment rate to 14.7 percent.

The economic shutdown — caused by the COVID-19 outbreak — has exceeded the Great Recession, which peaked at a 10 percent unemployment rate in October 2009.

The New York Times reported the 14.7 percent jobless rate has become comparable to unemployment rates reached in the Great Depression, with an estimated 25 percent jobless rate in 1933, before official government records were kept.

The U.S Department of Labor Statistics reported the nation’s jobless rate jumped by 10.3 percent in April, over the prior month.

“This is the highest rate and the largest over-the-month increase in the history of the series (seasonally adjusted data are available back to January 1948),” the federal agency said in a statement.

Jobless workers increased by 15.9 million last month, for a total of 23.1 million, the report shows.

“The sharp increases in these measures reflect the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it,” the agency said.

A breakdown of the overall jobless rate shows women and minority workers are carrying an even heavier burden.

Compared to the overall jobless rate of 14.7 percent, adult men had an unemployment rate of 13 percent, with 15.5 percent for adult women, the report shows.

White workers had a 14.2 percent jobless rate, compared to 16.7 percent for African-American workers and 18.9 percent for Hispanic workers, the report shows.

Workers with lower levels of education are also struggling. The unemployment rate for workers without a high school degree was 21.2 percent in April, with a 17.3 percent rate for workers with a high school degree, the report shows.

Workers with some college had a 15 percent jobless rate, compared to an 8.4 percent rate for workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher, the report shows.

The new report only reflected national data, but a Labor Department report on Thursday showed Florida workers are facing historic jobless rates.

Since mid-March, 1,764,131 jobless workers in the nation’s third-largest state have filed initial unemployment claims, the report shows. Florida had a workforce of 10.3 million employees in March, before the COVID-19 outbreak forced Florida businesses, dine-in restaurants, bars, schools, theme parks and sports arenas to shut down.

In April alone, 1.46 million jobless claims were filed in Florida, the report shows.

Friday’s federal report showed that the job losses nationally involved all sectors of the economy, with “particularly heavy job losses in leisure and hospitality,” which are major employers in Florida’s tourism economy.

But Florida workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own continue to struggle in securing unemployment benefits from the state. Gov. Ron DeSantis has blamed the problems on the Department of Economic Opportunity’s faulty computer system and he announced this week he was launching an investigation into the system.

Through Wednesday, the DEO reported it has identified 1.2 million unique unemployment claims from workers, with 814,560 of those claims processed. It has resulted in payments to 486,155 jobless workers.

Last week, DeSantis announced the first phase of the reopening of Florida’s economy, which began this week.

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Lloyd Dunkelberger
Lloyd Dunkelberger

Lloyd Dunkelberger has been covering Florida government for over three decades. He’s reported and edited in Tallahassee for the New York Times Regional Newspapers group, Florida Politics, and the News Service of Florida. He grew up in Jacksonville and Palm Beach County and got his journalism degree at the University of Florida.