We’re about to learn more about how devastating the pandemic has been for American workers.
Even by the standards of the coronavirus pandemic, Friday’s report on employment in the United States will be staggering.
It will also be far more illuminating than data that has been released so far, offering details on who has lost work, and who hasn’t. Those specifics could reveal how quickly the economy might rebound once pandemic-related shutdowns are lifted.
The monthly report will undoubtedly show that job losses in April were the worst ever: Economists expect the unemployment rate to reach 16 percent, by far the worst since the Great Depression, with as many as 22 million jobs lost.
It’s no surprise that employers have cut millions of jobs; weekly data on filings for unemployment benefits have tracked the destruction. Those reports have consistently shown that millions of workers have sought unemployment benefits each week since March, as businesses temporarily shut their doors because of stay-at-home orders, or closed for good as the economy ground to a halt.
But the monthly numbers due out on Friday are far more comprehensive than the weekly release, because they are based on information gathered from both households and businesses.
They will break down employment by race and gender, important details that will show who is bearing the brunt of the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.
The report also includes data on working hours, which will show how many people held on to their jobs but had their hours cut, and it will also provide the most detailed breakdown yet of job losses by industry, which could help assess how far the damage has spread.
But if the losses have spread to other industries like finance and professional services, it could point to cascading damage and a longer recovery.
The monthly numbers also distinguish between people who have lost their jobs permanently and those on a temporary layoff or furlough. The larger the share of workers in the second category, the faster the recovery could be.
Stocks rose on Thursday with Wall Street’s technology-heavy benchmark, the Nasdaq composite, closing in positive territory for the year.
Tech stocks have been rallying on the view that giant companies like Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic with even more power than they had before it began. They’re sitting on mountains of cash that will help protect them from the economic downturn, and the nature of the lockdowns — with workers at home and consumers dependent on e-commerce — plays directly to their strengths.
Though the biggest companies have outsize influence over the market, it isn’t just the giants that are seen as benefiting from the pandemic. The Nasdaq also includes companies like the conference app maker Zoom, home fitness company Peloton Interactive, and Netflix, all of which have rallied this year as demand for their services skyrocketed.
The Nasdaq is still well below its highest point of the year, reached in February. The S&P 500 still has to climb more than 10 percent to reach its break-even threshold. Both indexes gained more than 1 percent on Thursday.
Those gains came even after the latest report on weekly unemployment filings showed that more than three million workers in the United States claimed benefits last week. Also on Thursday, the Bank of England projected that the British economy would contract 30 percent in the April-June quarter, and 14 percent for the year.
Investors have been looking past grim economic projections, and the mounting death toll, to bid up stock prices on expectations that the number of coronavirus cases will begin to ebb, and that they can expect more government support for businesses and markets.
Li Mingqin’s factory in central China makes products for happy times, using feathers from chickens and other poultry to produce masquerade masks and badminton shuttlecocks. But with the pandemic, new orders have come to a screeching halt and she, like many other small business owners, wonders how she will survive.
She has more than 100 employees whom she has not paid in a month, and whom she promises to pay in June. She has hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of feathers and other supplies stacked in a warehouse.
While China has almost completely stamped out local transmission of the coronavirus, its financial regulators are trying hard to help the country’s small businesses weather the current global collapse in consumer demand. Commercial banks are now free to lend to small businesses part of the money that they previously had to park with the central bank. Regulators are calling bank chief executives daily to tell them to roll over the loans of small businesses.
Borrowers who miss payments on bank loans are not being penalized on their credit histories if they can come up with the money later. Companies that agree not to lay off employees are eligible for extra loans.
But tapping all that credit requires having a banking relationship. The banks deal mainly with state-owned enterprises and some of the larger private businesses. Companies like Ms. Li’s, the Gelan Handicraft Factory in Anhui province, have struggled to obtain bank loans and rely mainly on borrowing from friends and relatives — and many of them face their own financial difficulties now.
Ms. Li has dismissed her nanny and started cooking for herself.
“My husband and I are under great pressure and often can’t sleep all night” worrying about the factory, she said. “I don’t know the future, I’m so confused, I don’t know how long it can last.”
A standoff between Amazon and French unions over safety measures for the coronavirus grew tenser on Thursday when the company said it would ask the French highest court to overturn an appeals court decision last week that ordered the e-commerce giant to stop delivering nonessential items in France during the pandemic to protect workers.
Amazon will also seek approval on Friday from workers councils, which represent around 10,000 employees, to keep its six mammoth French warehouses shut until May 13, as it consults with them on steps to further enhance safety measures against the virus.
“We are working hard to resume business as usual for our French customers, our French employees and our French sellers,” Amazon said in a statement.
Amazon’s warehouses in France have been shut for nearly a month after a court sided in mid-April with French unions that had sued the company, accusing it of inadequately protecting workers from the threat of the virus and failing to consult with the unions on the measures, as required by law. The court ruled that Amazon must restrict deliveries to only food, hygiene and medical products until it addressed the issue, or face millions of euros in potential fines.
Rather than risk the penalty, Amazon put its work force on paid furlough, but it is continuing to deliver items to France from its centers in Belgium, German and Spain. The company lashed out at the unions for bringing the lawsuit, which was upheld by the Versailles Court of Appeals last week. Amazon insists that it has maintained rigorous health safety at its French sites, and has accused unions of seeking to further their own interests amid the health crisis.
Catch up: Here’s what else is happening.
J.C. Penney and Sephora, which had been sparring in court about a potential closure of Sephora’s mini-shops inside hundreds of J.C. Penney locations, said on Thursday that had “reaffirmed their longstanding partnership.” J.C. Penny had filed a lawsuit on Monday that outlined disagreements between the companies, which have been partners since 2006, and highlighted the challenges that many retailers may face with vendors as they try to return to business during the pandemic.
Frontier Airlines became the first U.S. carrier to announce plans to take the temperature of passengers before boarding, a move that would take effect on June 1. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will be denied boarding.
The Walt Disney Company said the 120-acre Disney Springs, one of the largest shopping malls in the United States, would begin a phased reopening on May 20. The lakeside property in suburban Orlando, Fla., has about 170 stores and restaurants. Disney’s theme parks and hotels will remain closed. Disney said that reopening Disney Springs would involve face masks for employees and guests and limitations on capacity.
Reporting was contributed by Niraj Chokshi, Sapna Maheshwari, Ben Casselman, Keith Bradsher, Mohammed Hadi, Brooks Barnes, Liz Alderman, Carlos Tejada and Daniel Victor.