Last Friday, the Bureau for Labor Statistics released their Employment Report for August 2020. The big surprise was that the unemployment rate fell to 8.4%, a full percent lower than what many analysts had forecasted earlier in the week. Though it is tough to look at this as great news when millions of Americans are still without work, the number of unemployed is currently much lower than most experts had projected it would be just a few months ago.
Not Like the Great Depression or even the Great Recession
Jason Furman, Professor of Practice at Harvard explained:
“An unemployment rate of 8.4% is much lower than most anyone would have thought it a few months ago. It is still a bad recession but not a historically unprecedented event or one we need to go back to the Great Depression for comparison.”
During the Great Depression, the unemployment rate was over 20% for four consecutive years (1932 – 1935). This April, the rate jumped to 14.7%, but has fallen each month since.
During and after the Great Recession (2007-2009), the unemployment rate was at 9% or greater for thirty consecutive months (April 2009 – October 2011). Most economists believe the current rate will continue to fall monthly as the economy regains its strength.
What Happens Going Forward?
The outcome will be determined by how quickly we can contain the virus. In their last Economic Forecasting Survey, the Wall Street Journal reported the economists surveyed believe the annual unemployment rates will be 6.6% in 2021 and 5.5% in 2022. Though that will still be greater than the 3.5% rate that we saw earlier this year, it is lower than the annual rate reported in 2011 (8.5%), 2012 (7.9%), and 2013 (6.7%).
There are still millions of Americans struggling through this economic downturn. There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. The unemployment situation did not get as bad as many had predicted, and the recovery is taking place faster than most thought would happen.
With the strength of the current housing market growing every day and more Americans returning to work, a faster-than-expected recovery in the housing sector is already well underway. Regardless, many are still asking the question: will we see a wave of foreclosures as a result of the current crisis? Thankfully, research shows the number of foreclosures is expected to be much lower than what this country experienced during the last recession. Here’s why.
According to Black Knight Inc., the number of those in active forbearance has been leveling-off over the past month (see graph below): Black Knight Inc. also notes, of the original 4,208,000 families granted forbearance, only 2,588,000 of these homeowners got an extension. Many homeowners have once again started to pay their mortgages, paid off their homes, or never went delinquent on their payments in the first place. They may have applied for forbearance out of precaution, but never fully acted on it (see graph below): The housing market, and homeowners, therefore, are in a much better position than many may think. Much of that has to do with the fact that today’s homeowners have more equity than most realize. According to John Burns Consulting, over 42% of homes are owned free and clear, meaning they are not tied to a mortgage. Of the remaining 58%, the average homeowner has $177,000 in equity. That number is keeping many homeowners afloat today and giving them options to avoid foreclosure.
While ATTOM Data Solutions indicates that there is a potential for the number of foreclosures to increase throughout the country, it’s important to understand why they won’t rock the housing market this time around:
“The United States faces a possible foreclosure surge over the coming months that could more than double the number of households threatened with eviction for not paying their mortgages.”
That number may sound massive, but it is actually much smaller than it seems at first glance. Today’s actual quarterly active foreclosure number is 74,860. That’s over 7.5x lower than the number of foreclosures the country saw at the peak of the housing crash in 2009. When looking at the graph below, it’s clear that even if the number of quarterly foreclosures today doubles, as ATTOM Data Solutions indicates is a possibility (not a given), they will only reach what historically-speaking is a normalized range, far below what up-ended the housing market roughly 10 years ago. Equity is growing, jobs are returning, and the economy is slowly recovering, so the perfect storm for a wave of foreclosures is not realistically in the housing market forecast. As Odeta Kushi, Deputy Chief Economist for First American notes:
“Alone, economic hardship and a lack of equity are each necessary, but not sufficient to trigger a foreclosure. It is only when both conditions exist that a foreclosure becomes a likely outcome.”
While our hearts are with anyone who may end up in foreclosure as a result of this crisis, we do know that today’s homeowners have more options than they did 10 years ago. For some, it may mean selling their house and downsizing with that equity, which is a far better outcome than a foreclosure.
Homeowners today have many options to avoid foreclosure, and equity is surely helping to keep many afloat. Even if today’s rate of foreclosures doubles, it will still only hit a mark that is more in line with a historically normalized range, a very good sign for homeowners and the housing market.
Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its latest Employment Situation Summary. Going into the release, the expert consensus was for 1.58 million jobs to be added in July, and for the unemployment rate to fall to 10.5%.
When the official report came out, it revealed that 1.8 million jobs were added, and the unemployment rate fell to 10.2% (from 11.1% last month). Once again, this is excellent news as this was the third consecutive month the unemployment rate decreased. There is, however, still a long way to go before the job market fully recovers. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) put a potential date on that recovery:
“July’s payroll growth, at 1.8 million, still leaves total payrolls 12.9 million lower than in February. And yet if job gains continued at July’s pace, that deficit will be erased by March 2021. If payrolls reclaim their last peak in 13 months, that would be remarkably fast. It took more than six years after the last recession.”
Permanent vs. Temporary Unemployment
During a pandemic, it’s important to differentiate those who have lost their jobs on a temporary basis from those who have lost them on a permanent basis. Morgan Stanley economists noted in the same WSJ article:
“The rate of churn in the labor market remains incredibly high, but a notable positive detail in this month’s report was the downtick in the rate of new permanent layoffs.”
To address this, the core unemployment rate becomes increasingly important. It identifies the number of people who have permanently lost their jobs. This measure subtracts temporary layoffs and adds unemployed who did not search for a job recently. Jed Kolko, Chief Economist at Indeed and the founder of the index reported:
“Core unemployment fell in July for the first time in the pandemic. That’s the good news I was hoping for.”
What about the housing market?
The housing market has continued to show tremendous resilience during the pandemic. Commenting on the labor report, Robert Dietz, Chief Economist for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), tweeted:
“Housing continues to rebound in another positive labor market report. Home builder and remodeler job gains of 24K for July. Residential construction employment down just 56.4K compared to a year ago. Total residential construction employment at 2.85 million.”
We should remain cautious in our optimism, as the recovery is ultimately tied to our future success in mitigating the ongoing health crisis. However, as Mike Fratantoni, Chief Economist for the Mortgage Bankers Association reminds us: “The pace of job growth slowed in July, but the gains over the past three months represent an impressive rebound during the ongoing economic challenges brought forth by the pandemic.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest Employment Situation Summary last Thursday, and it again beat analysts’ expectations in a big way. The consensus was for 3,074,000 jobs to be added in June. The report revealed that 4,800,000 jobs were added. The unemployment rate fell to 11.1% from 13.3% last month. Again, excellent news as the unemployment rate fell for the second consecutive month. However, there’s still a long way to go before the economy fully recovers as 17.8 million Americans remain unemployed.
Here are two interesting insights on the report:
What about a supposed misclassification?
The BLS addressed this at length in a blog post last week, and concluded by saying:
“Regardless of the assumptions we might make about misclassification, the trend in the unemployment rate over the period in question is the same; the rate increased in March & April and eased in May.”
They specifically noted the issue in the latest report by explaining that if they adjusted the rate for the potential miscalculation, it would increase from 11.1% to 12.1% (which is lower than the adjusted rate of 16.4% last month). They went on to say:
“However, this represents the upper bound of our estimate of misclassification and probably overstates the size of the misclassification error.”
Does the shutdown of parts of the economy skew the unemployment numbers?
Because the uniqueness of 2020 impacts the employment situation in so many ways, each jobs report is now examined with a microscope to make sure the headlines generated by the report accurately convey what’s happening in the job market.
One such analysis is done by Jed Kolko, Chief Economist at Indeed. He believes the extraordinary number of people in the “temporary” unemployed category confuses the broader issue of how many people have permanently lost their job. He adjusts for this when calculating his “core unemployment rate” (which subtracts temporary layoffs and adds unemployed who didn’t search for a job recently).
The bad news is that his analysis reveals that the number of permanently unemployed is still rising (from 4.6% in April to 5.9% last month). The good news, however, is when you use his methodology to look back at the Great Recession, today’s “core unemployment rate” is significantly lower (5.9% versus 10.5% in April 2010).
Last week’s jobs report was much better than most expected. However, we should remain cautious in our optimism. As the Wall Street Journal explained in their analysis of the jobs report:
“U.S. job growth surged last month, underscoring the economy’s capacity for a quick rebound if businesses continue to reopen and consumers regain confidence. A recent coronavirus spike, however, could undermine trends captured in the latest jobs report.”
Last Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released their May Employment Situation Summary. Leading up to the release, most experts predicted the unemployment rate would jump up to approximately 20% from the 14.7% rate announced last month.
The experts were shocked.
The Wall Street Journal put it this way:
“The May U.S. jobless rate fell to 13.3% and employers added 2.5 million jobs, blowing Wall Street expectations out of the water: Economists had forecast a loss of 8.3 million jobs and a 19.5% unemployment rate.”
In addition, CNBC revealed:
“The May gain was by far the biggest one-month jobs surge in U.S. history since at least 1939.”
Here are some of the job gains by sector:
- Food Service and Bartenders – 1,400,000
- Construction – 464,000
- Education and Health Services – 424,000
- Retail – 368,000
- Other Services – 272,000
- Manufacturing – 225,000
- Professional Services – 127,000
There’s still a long way to go before the economy fully recovers, as 21 million Americans remain unemployed. That number is down, however, from 23 million just last month. And, of the 21 million in the current report, 73% feel their layoff is temporary. This aligns with a recent Federal Reserve Bank report that showed employers felt 75% of the job losses are temporary layoffs and furloughs.
The Employment Situation Summary was definitely a pleasant surprise, and evidence that the country’s economic turnaround is underway. The data also offers a labor-market snapshot from mid-May, when the government conducted its monthly survey of households and businesses. Many states did not open for business until the second half of May. This bodes well for next month’s jobs report.
We cannot rejoice over a report that reveals millions of American families are still without work. We can, however, feel relieved that we are headed in the right direction, and much more quickly than most anticipated.
Note: In its original report, the BLS explained that a misclassification error could have occurred over the last 3 months, starting in March of 2020. Readjusting for this error, the unemployment rate would actually show a drop from 19.7% in April to 16.3% in May. Nobody would say the original report of 13.3% unemployment was a good number, nor is the revised 16.3%. What is a positive move for our country and the economy is the significant drop in the rate from April to May, meaning more people are getting jobs than losing them. That’s the key takeaway.
Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its latest jobs report. It revealed that the economic shutdown made necessary by COVID-19 caused the unemployment rate to jump to 14.7%. Many anticipate that next month the percentage could be even higher. These numbers represent the extreme hardship so many families are experiencing right now. That pain should not be understated.
However, the long-term toll the pandemic will cause should not be overstated either. There have been numerous headlines claiming the current disruption in the economy is akin to the Great Depression, and many of those articles are calling for total Armageddon. Some experts are stepping up to refute those claims.
In a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article this past weekend, Josh Zumbrun, a national economics correspondent for the Journal explained:
“News stories often describe the coronavirus-induced global economic downturn as the worst since the Great Depression…the comparison does more to terrify than clarify.”
Zumbrun goes on to explain:
“From 1929 to 1933, the economy shrank for 43 consecutive months, according to contemporaneous estimates. Unemployment climbed to nearly 25% before slowly beginning its descent, but it remained above 10% for an entire decade…This time, many economists believe a rebound could begin this year or early next year.”
What makes this time so different?
This was not a structural collapse of the economy, but instead a planned shutdown to help mitigate the virus. Once the virus is contained, the economy will immediately begin to recover. This is nothing like what happened in the 1930s. In the same WSJ article mentioned above, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who has done extensive research on the depression in the 1930s, explained:
“The breakdown of the financial system was a major reason for both the Great Depression and the 2007-09 recession.” He went on to say that today – “the banks are stronger and much better capitalized.”
What about the families and small businesses that are suffering right now?
The nation’s collective heart goes out to all. The BLS report, however, showed that ninety percent of the job losses are temporary. In addition, many are getting help surviving this pause in their employment status. During the Great Depression, there were no government-sponsored unemployment insurance or large government subsidies as there are this time.
Today, many families are receiving unemployment benefits and an additional $600 a week. The stimulus package is helping many companies weather the storm. Is there still pain? Of course. The assistance, however, is providing much relief until most can go back to work.
We should look at the current situation for what it is – a predetermined pause placed on the economy. The country will recover once the pandemic ends. Comparisons to any other downturn make little sense. Bernanke put it best:
“I don’t find comparing the current downturn with the Great Depression to be very helpful. The expected duration is much less, and the causes are very different.”
- Taking a moment to reflect upon what we’ve heard from historical leaders can teach us a lot about getting through the many challenges we face today.
- We’re all eager for the day when every American can safely return to work. That day is coming. Timing is everything. Patience is essential.
- Our courage, strength, and unparalleled resilience will get us there.
Today, the unemployment rate for April 2020 will be released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It will hit a peak this country has never seen before, with data representing real families and lives affected by this economic slowdown. The numbers will alarm us. There will be headlines and doomsday scenarios in the media. There is hope, though, that as businesses reopen, most people will become employed again soon.
Last month’s report indicated we initially lost over 700,000 jobs in this country, and the unemployment rate quickly rose to 4.4%. With the release of the new data, that number will climb even higher. Experts forecast this report will show somewhere between a 15% – 20% national unemployment rate, and some anticipate that number to be even greater (see graph below):
What’s happened over the last several weeks?
Here’s a breakdown of this spring’s weekly unemployment filings: The good news shown here indicates the number of additional unemployment claims has decreased week over week since the beginning of April. Carlos Rodriguez, CEO of Automatic Data Processing (ADP) says based on what he’s seeing:
“It’s possible that companies are already anticipating some kind of normalization, opening in certain states and starting to post jobs.”
He goes on to say that this doesn’t mean all companies are hiring, but it could mean they are at the point where they’re not cutting jobs anymore. Let’s hope this trend continues.
What will the future bring?
Most experts predict that while unemployment is high right now, it won’t be that way for long. The length of unemployment during this crisis is projected to be significantly shorter than the duration seen in the Great Recession and the Great Depression. While forecasts may be high, the numbers are trending down and the length of time isn’t expected to last forever.
Don’t let the headlines rattle you. There’s hope coming as we start to safely reopen businesses throughout the country. Unemployment affects our families, our businesses, and our country. Our job is to rally around those impacted and do our part to support them through this time.