The unemployment rate dropped from 14.7% in April to 13.3% in May. It’s a surprising drop; many were expecting it to surge to Great Depression levels in May. And it signals a recovering job market.
Economists were expecting today’s number to show an unemployment rate of 19.5%, according to a Bloomberg consensus estimate.
Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi told Fortune on Wednesday that recent economic data point to the recession having ended in the month of May, and that we’ve moved into the recovery phase. He expects the jobless rate to drop again in June.
“I think the recession is over. The recession ended in May, and in June we’ll see job growth,” Zandi said.
The jobs report finds the U.S. economy added 2.5 million jobs in May, following the 7.1 million jobs lost in April. The total number of unemployed Americans now sits at 21 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In May 2019, that figure was 6 million, demonstrating how long this recovery could take.
The falling unemployment rate isn’t the only reason to think we’ve moved into recovery. The overall number of Americans on unemployment insurance—known as continuing claims—is down 3.4 million from its peak of 24.9 million the week ending May 9. That points to companies rehiring workers they let go as states ease their lockdowns. And that hasn’t manifested itself in the jobs report yet given the May jobless rate is tabulated through just the middle of the month.
The latest data shows that the shutdowns are hitting some communities harder than others. The jobless among white Americans is 12.4%, compared with 15% for Asian workers, 17.6% for Hispanic workers, and 16.8% among black workers. Among adult men the rate is 11.6%, compared to 13.9% among adult women.
This official unemployment rate of 13.3% is likely to be a gross undercounting of the actual level of joblessness in mid-May. The BLS defines the unemployed as people without jobs who are also looking for new positions. The current U.S. labor market is far more complicated than that. A Fortune-SurveyMonkey poll of 4,717 U.S. adults between April 25–28 finds that 17% of workers who recently lost their jobs aren’t currently looking for work. Given the nature of the virus and the stay-at-home orders, some laid-off workers may be waiting it out before starting their job search.