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Don’t believe the hype: Unemployment increased in May

By Masao Suzuki |
June 5, 2020
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San José, CA - Corporate-owned media is blaring that the unemployment rate unexpectedly fell in May to 13.3%, from 14.7% in April. This was far better than even the most optimistic economist expected and even led to at least one to declare that “the recession is over.” Well, when something is too good to be true, it usually isn’t true.

This report flies in the face of all the other reports on the job market in May. The Labor Department’s own report on continuing unemployment insurance claims, including regular state unemployment insurance, the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PE-UC), and other programs, rose from 12.5 million in April to 29.9 million in May. While much of this increase was because of states being late in getting new applicants processed for unemployment insurance benefits, it is hard to see how 17.4 million more people getting benefits can fit with two million more people getting jobs.

Another important report, the Institute for Supply Management surveys of purchasing managers - also known as PMI, showed a reading of 31.8% for employment in the service sector and 32.1% in the manufacturing sector. With 50% being a breakeven point, where as many businesses are hiring as there are businesses cutting jobs, reading in the low 30s show widespread job cuts. Another private survey, the ADP National Employment Report, showed a loss of 2.75 million private sector jobs, as opposed to the official report of a gain of 3 million jobs.

In fact, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics released a special report on the impact of the COVID-19 on unemployment statistics. They admitted that there were 5.4 million people who were classified as “employed but not working” in the May unemployment report. This is far more than the 550,000 in this category in a typical May. Many if not most of these workers should have been reported as unemployed. If these 4.9 additional “employed but not working” were counted as unemployed, the May unemployment rate would have been 16.1%, not 13.3%.

Even the faulty report shows that African Americans’ and Asian Americans’ unemployment rate went up as the overall rate supposedly went down. While unemployment was supposed to have fallen for Chicanos and Latinos, they still had the highest rate, more than 5% higher than whites. Governments continued to lay off workers, with a loss of almost 600,000 jobs in May, meaning fewer services for our communities.

But even if by some miracle the unemployment rate did go down, it should be seen as the proverbial ‘dead cat bounce.’ The fact of the matter is that there were 30 million people trying to make ends meet on government support while millions more have not received their unemployment or federal relief checks yet. Lines at food pantries stretch for miles and millions have no way to pay the back-rent or mortgage payments that they owe. Millions are looking at the July 31 expiration of federal unemployment supplements, which are looking less and less likely to be extended with strong opposition from Republicans in Washington, D.C.