U.S. employers lost 701,000 jobs in March, breaking a decade-long streak of employment gains as the coronavirus pandemic forced the nation's economy to come to a grinding halt.
It was the first decline in payrolls since September 2010, and the steepest since March 2009, in the midst of the Great Recession — but the losses were more pronounced in some sectors than in others.
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The private sector accounted for all of the losses last month, with 713,000 positions disappearing from the payroll, according to the Labor Department's report released on Friday. The government actually added 12,000 jobs last month, with the federal government hiring 18,000 workers, the majority for work on the 2020 Census.
A medical worker sticks her head outside a COVID-19 testing tent set up outside Elmhurst Hospital Center in New York, Saturday, March 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Interestingly, 42,500 jobs disappeared from the health care industry, with some of the biggest losses taking place in dentists' offices (-17,000) and physicians' offices (-12,000). Hospitals only added 200 jobs — possibly because the wave of patients infected with COVID-19 had not yet overwhelmed the hospitals.
FILE – In this March 25, 2020, file photo, a closed sign hangs in the window of a shop in Portsmouth, N.H. Most of the restaurant and retail businesses in the city have closed, with some offering takeout or pick-up orders, due to the virus outbreak. (Associated Press)
Unsurprisingly, leisure and hospitality accounted for the bulk of the job losses, with a stunning 459,000 vanishing from the sector. Food services and drinking places — one of the hardest-hit areas of the economy, as cities and states enforce strict stay-at-home policies – shed 417,400 positions in March.
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Transit and ground transportation lost 4,000 jobs, and construction posted a 29,000 decline. Manufacturing fell by 18,000.
In this March 13, 2020 file photo, unionized hospitality workers wait in line in a basement garage to apply for unemployment benefits at the Hospitality Training Academy in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) (Associated Press)
Still, the Labor Department’s employment report, which is based on surveys conducted in the early weeks of the month, when large swaths of the economy had not yet shut down, does not fully reflect the depth of the economic calamity that the virus outbreak has inflicted. In the final two weeks of the month, 10 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits, a stunning sign of the scope of the economic crash.