We’re about to learn more about how devastating the pandemic has been for American workers.
Even by the standards of the coronavirus pandemic, Friday’s report on employment in the United States will be staggering.
It will also be far more illuminating than data that has been released so far, offering details on who has lost work, and who hasn’t. Those specifics could reveal how quickly the economy might rebound once pandemic-related shutdowns are lifted.
The monthly report will undoubtedly show that job losses in April were the worst ever: Economists expect the unemployment rate to reach 16 percent, by far the worst since the Great Depression, with as many as 22 million jobs lost.
It’s no surprise that employers have cut millions of jobs; weekly data on filings for unemployment benefits have tracked the destruction. Those reports have consistently shown that millions of workers have sought unemployment benefits each week since March, as businesses temporarily shut their doors because of stay-at-home orders, or closed for good as the economy ground to a halt.
But the monthly numbers due out on Friday are far more comprehensive than the weekly release, because they are based on information gathered from both households and businesses.
They will break down employment by race and gender, important details that will show who is bearing the brunt of the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.
The report also includes data on working hours, which will show how many people held on to their jobs but had their hours cut, and it will also provide the most detailed breakdown yet of job losses by industry, which could help assess how far the damage has spread.
But if the losses have spread to other industries like finance and professional services, it could point to cascading damage and a longer recovery.
The monthly numbers also distinguish between people who have lost their jobs permanently and those on a temporary layoff or furlough. The larger the share of workers in the second category, the faster the recovery could be.
Asian markets rose strongly in early Friday trading, rallying on Wall Street’s strong performance the day before and positive comments from American and Chinese officials on trade.
Japan led the regional rise, after stocks in the United States rose 1.2 percent. Futures markets were predicting further increases when Wall Street and European markets open later in the day.
Investors were cheered by the prospects of countries further reopening their economies, despite worries that those efforts could lead to a rise in infections. They were further bolstered by announcements from the United States and China that appeared to back their Phase 1 trade deal, which would bring their two-year trade war to a temporary truce. The White House openly questioned China’s commitment to the deal in recent days, hurting stocks.
The optimism was widespread. Prices for U.S. Treasury bonds, which generally rise in troubled times, were down in early Friday trading. Oil prices also rose.
In Japan, the Nikkei 225 index was 2 percent higher. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was up 1 percent. The Shanghai Composite index in mainland China was 0.9 percent higher. South Korea’s Kospi rose 1.1 percent.
China and the United States announced on Friday that they had held high-level trade talks. Despite increasingly tough rhetoric from Washington on trade, senior trade officials from both countries appeared to reaffirm the Phase 1 trade agreement they reached in January, which brought about a truce in their nearly two-year trade war.
“Both sides agreed that good progress is being made on creating the governmental infrastructures necessary to make the agreement a success,” the Office of the United States Trade Representative said. “They also agreed that in spite of the current global health emergency, both countries fully expect to meet their obligations under the agreement in a timely manner.”
President Trump had rattled financial markets on Wednesday by promising to review by the end of next week whether China had been meeting its obligations under the agreement for increased purchases of American goods.
China has been importing more American food since the pact was signed. But China’s overall imports of American goods have fallen short of the administration’s initial hopes because the coronavirus pandemic has hurt Chinese consumer spending and investment.
The agreement itself set import targets over two years, however, not quarterly targets along the way. The trade representative office’s statement on Friday morning was less confrontational toward China than other recent statements from the administration have been.
Vice Premier Liu He of China spoke on a conference call with Robert Lighthizer, the trade representative, and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, both countries said.
“The two sides stated that they should strengthen macroeconomic and public health cooperation, strive to create a favorable atmosphere and conditions for the implementation of the first phase of the Sino-U.S. economic and trade agreement, and promote positive results,” China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement.
Asian stock markets rose on Friday morning after the two countries made their announcements.
China’s small businesses are still struggling as global demand collapses.
Li Mingqin’s factory in central China makes products for happy times, using feathers from chickens and other poultry to produce masquerade masks and badminton shuttlecocks. But with the pandemic, new orders have come to a screeching halt and she, like many other small business owners, wonders how she will survive.
She has more than 100 employees whom she has not paid in a month, and whom she promises to pay in June. She has hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of feathers and other supplies stacked in a warehouse.
While China has almost completely stamped out local transmission of the coronavirus, its financial regulators are trying hard to help the country’s small businesses weather the current global collapse in consumer demand. Commercial banks are now free to lend to small businesses part of the money that they previously had to park with the central bank. Regulators are calling bank chief executives daily to tell them to roll over the loans of small businesses.
Borrowers who miss payments on bank loans are not being penalized on their credit histories if they can come up with the money later. Companies that agree not to lay off employees are eligible for extra loans.
But tapping all that credit requires having a banking relationship. The banks deal mainly with state-owned enterprises and some of the larger private businesses. Companies like Ms. Li’s, the Gelan Handicraft Factory in Anhui province, have struggled to obtain bank loans and rely mainly on borrowing from friends and relatives — and many of them face their own financial difficulties now.
Ms. Li has dismissed her nanny and started cooking for herself.
“My husband and I are under great pressure and often can’t sleep all night” worrying about the factory, she said. “I don’t know the future, I’m so confused, I don’t know how long it can last.”
A standoff between Amazon and French unions over safety measures for the coronavirus grew tenser on Thursday when the company said it would ask the French highest court to overturn an appeals court decision last week that ordered the e-commerce giant to stop delivering nonessential items in France during the pandemic to protect workers.
Amazon will also seek approval on Friday from workers councils, which represent around 10,000 employees, to keep its six mammoth French warehouses shut until May 13, as it consults with them on steps to further enhance safety measures against the virus.
“We are working hard to resume business as usual for our French customers, our French employees and our French sellers,” Amazon said in a statement.
Amazon’s warehouses in France have been shut for nearly a month after a court sided in mid-April with French unions that had sued the company, accusing it of inadequately protecting workers from the threat of the virus and failing to consult with the unions on the measures, as required by law. The court ruled that Amazon must restrict deliveries to only food, hygiene and medical products until it addressed the issue, or face millions of euros in potential fines.
Rather than risk the penalty, Amazon put its work force on paid furlough, but it is continuing to deliver items to France from its centers in Belgium, German and Spain. The company lashed out at the unions for bringing the lawsuit, which was upheld by the Versailles Court of Appeals last week. Amazon insists that it has maintained rigorous health safety at its French sites, and has accused unions of seeking to further their own interests amid the health crisis.
Catch up: Here’s what else is happening.
J.C. Penney and Sephora, which had been sparring in court about a potential closure of Sephora’s mini-shops inside hundreds of J.C. Penney locations, said on Thursday that had “reaffirmed their longstanding partnership.” J.C. Penny had filed a lawsuit on Monday that outlined disagreements between the companies, which have been partners since 2006, and highlighted the challenges that many retailers may face with vendors as they try to return to business during the pandemic.
Frontier Airlines became the first U.S. carrier to announce plans to take the temperature of passengers before boarding, a move that would take effect on June 1. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will be denied boarding.
The Walt Disney Company said the 120-acre Disney Springs, one of the largest shopping malls in the United States, would begin a phased reopening on May 20. The lakeside property in suburban Orlando, Fla., has about 170 stores and restaurants. Disney’s theme parks and hotels will remain closed. Disney said that reopening Disney Springs would involve face masks for employees and guests and limitations on capacity.
Reporting and research was contributed by Niraj Chokshi, Sapna Maheshwari, Ben Casselman, Keith Bradsher, Liu Yi, Mohammed Hadi, Brooks Barnes, Liz Alderman, Carlos Tejada and Daniel Victor.