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May 22, 2020, 4:43 p.m. EDT

New York’s unemployment rate rose sharply to 14.5% in April, the highest ever on record

With 1.8 million jobs lost last month, it was second only to California, which saw a loss of 2.3 million jobs

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By Beckie Strum


Getty Images
Restaurant staffers have been among the workers who have been hit hardest by the economy’s lockdown.

Unemployment in New York rose to its highest level on record in April, as the state lost more than 1.8 million jobs last month, when officials were working to contain the worst coronavirus outbreak in the country. 

It was the second-highest number of job losses of any state in the U.S. after California, which lost more than 2.3 million jobs in April, according to data released Friday from the U.S. Labor Department. The record number of job losses sent New York’s unemployment rate soaring to a seasonally adjusted 14.5% — the highest ever recorded for the state in the report’s 44-year history — from just 4.1% in March. 

All 50 states recorded job losses in April as governments enacted social distancing measures to varying degrees to stop COVID-19’s spread — including ordering nonessential businesses to close, shuttering school systems and asking people to stay home. 

New York’s unemployment rate was slightly better than the nation’s, which rose to 14.7% in April. And despite being the national epicenter for the disease, unemployment in New York City was roughly on par with the state and the nation, at 14.2%. 

As of Friday, the city had nearly 200,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 16,300 deaths. Statewide, New York has the highest number of COVID-19-related fatalities in the country, with 23,195 deaths as of Friday. 

Indeed, New York City’s jobs market appears to have fared better in April than any of the six metro areas captured in the monthly data series, which includes Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle. Detroit’s unemployment rate was the worst of the six, skyrocketing to 21.6%. 

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Workers in restaurants and nightlife, leisure, tourism and manufacturing across the U.S. have been some of the worst hit by layoffs and furloughs since the start of the crisis. As a result, tourism-dependent states such as Nevada and Hawaii have some of the highest rates of joblessness. More than a fourth of Nevada’s workforce was out of a job in April. 

Around 35.5 million people in the U.S. have applied for unemployment benefits through their respective states since mid-March, when stay-at-home measures began. 

New York state shed 578,000 jobs in leisure and hospitality in April alone, representing around two-thirds of the industry’s total workforce in the state. The state also lost 340,000 jobs in trade, transportation and utilities, as stay-at-home orders have crippled train and air travel.  

Meanwhile, New York lost more than 167,000 construction jobs last month as the state prohibited all but essential work to continue. Such jobs are down about 40% since the start of the crisis, though they may be among the first industries where jobs bounce back, as construction will resume in all regions of the state but New York City by next week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Friday. 

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The longer certain businesses remain shut, the harder it will be for many, particularly small businesses, to reopen and rehire. The state took a new measure to guard against that on Friday, launching a $100 million loan program to provide relief to small businesses with 20 employees or less, Cuomo said. 

The state would focus the program on minority- and women-owned businesses that did not receive aid through federal programs, he said. “We’re going to focus on true small businesses.”

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