By Nelson D. Schwartz and Patricia Cohen
The New York Times
The longest stretch of job creation in U.S. history came to a halt last month, the Labor Department reported Friday, another reflection of the coronavirus pandemic that has brought the economy to a virtual standstill.
“This is nothing compared to what we’re going to see,” said Stephanie Pomboy, president of MacroMavens, an independent research firm. Indeed, the March unemployment rate of 4.4% may be replaced by double digits as soon as the next report.
The decline in employment last month represents the biggest monthly drop since the depths of the Great Recession in 2008-09. It was paced by a net loss of 459,000 jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector.
It was a stunningly abrupt end to a landmark stretch of job creation — 113 months in a row, more than twice the previous record. The gains began in late 2010 and totaled 22.2 million in an expansion that was steady, if not always spectacular.
The near-decade of resurgent hiring more than recouped the 8.7 million jobs wiped out in the recession that came just before.
For corporations, it was a golden age. With interest rates low, many companies binged on debt even as they used excess cash to buy back stock. For workers, the results were mixed, with only modest increases in wages, especially for those in lower-paid jobs.
In the past few years, monthly hiring picked up, pushing the unemployment rate to a half-century low, including a 3.5% reading in February.
The coronavirus pandemic changed all that.
The closing of everything from restaurants and barbershops to retail stores and movie theaters eliminated broad swaths of employment in one blow, a loss only partly mitigated by vast government aid programs hurriedly enacted last month.
The employment picture darkened in late March as even sectors that had held up initially, like manufacturing, yielded to the magnitude of the crisis and factories closed.