Friday morning brought the first official tally of how the coronavirus pandemic is damaging the American economy. In March, more than 700,000 people lost their jobs, sending the unemployment rate north of 4 percent for the first time in two years.
These numbers aren’t great — but they’re also unquestionably much better than the current reality. The jobs data that was just released is weeks old, missing, for example, the past two weeks of initial unemployment claims that show about 10 million people report being newly out of work. The current unemployment rate is probably higher than 10 percent, higher than at the peak of the recession a decade ago.
Even these preliminary numbers, though, reflect how the economy began to slow down in response to the pandemic. Most of the job losses came from jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry, erasing the jobs added in that sector over the past two years. Losses there should be expected, given that bars and restaurants were among the first businesses to face mandated closures by state and local governments.
Data from Google released on Friday shows the breadth of the shift in Americans’ behaviors as reflected in where we are spending more and less time. Across the country, Americans spent 47 percent less time at retail and recreation venues by the end of March relative to the expected baseline. They spent 51 percent less time at public transit stations and 38 percent less time at workplaces. By contrast, Americans were spending 12 percent more time at home.
Those shifts vary by state, as you’d expect, reflecting stay-at-home orders issued by states and the scale of the pandemic across the country.
Nevada, for example, saw the biggest drop in movement to workplaces, trailed by Hawaii (not pictured) — states heavily reliant on tourism. Visits to groceries and pharmacies dropped, but less dramatically than visits to retail shops. One of the starkest contrasts drawn in the data provided by Google is the difference in how visits to public transit contrasts with visits to parks. A number of states, generally more rural ones, saw lower decreases in use of transit and big increases in visits to parks.
You can see those changes better when compared to the national decreases in visits to those types of venues.
Relative to the country on the whole, Nevada’s and New York’s declines in the number of people going to workplaces stand out. So do the drops in retail and grocery visits in the Great Lakes region and northeast.
Visits to certain businesses offer a hint at the economic effects. A more direct measure of which businesses have been affected comes from consumer spending data released by Bank of America and shared by data analyst Horace Dediu.
From March 7 to March 24, overall spending dropped by about 30 percent relative to the year prior. In certain categories, though, those drops were far bigger, airlines, lodging and cruises among them. (Figures that show a decline in excess of 100 percent indicate refunds given to customers.)
The two bright(ish) spots here are online electronics purchases and groceries — two elements of maintaining health and sanity while cooped up at home.
Again, the jobs data released on Friday only capture part of the shifts shown above. The jobs report that will be released on the first Friday in May of this year will show much larger drops in employment and more widespread ones, affecting a broader range of industries.
The data from Google and Bank of America offer some hints about how broad those drops will be.
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