The U.S. gained 2.5 million jobs in May and the unemployment rate decreased to 13.3 percent, a sign that loosened government restrictions have helped nudge the economy forward, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
For comparison, in April, 20.7 million jobs were cut—a revision that includes 200,000 more— and the unemployment rate was 14.7 percent.
"These improvements in the labor market reflected a limited resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed in March and April due to the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it," says William W. Beach, commissioner of the BLS, in a statement.
In May, employment in the food and drink industry increased by 1.4 million, which represented about half of the gain in U.S. employment. In April and March, the industry lost 6.1 million jobs. Nearly all states have allowed dining rooms to open, which means several brands have brought back furloughed employees. For example, Chili’s has reopened more than 600 of its company-run dining rooms and brought back 40 percent of the 30,000 workers it furloughed. Companies like Outback parent Bloomin’ Brands, Olive Garden parent Darden Restaurants, and Cracker Barrel have also reopened hundreds of dining rooms in recent weeks.
Roughly 7.62 million were on payroll in the industry, an increase from 6.25 million in May. That’s still a far cry from March when approximately 11.7 million were on payroll.
“Restaurant workers continue to make up the largest share of America’s jobless yet," said the Independent Restaurant Coalition in a statement. "Congress needs to pass a relief package specifically designed to protect our industry. Some independent restaurants are able to reopen, but the odds of staying open have grown nearly insurmountable. Restaurant owners face massive losses in revenue due to social distancing guidelines and increasing costs of supplies, and risk being forced to close again at any time. Without further assistance, Congress risks leaving 11 million Americans who work in independent restaurants unemployed, not including the five million employed through the businesses that supply them, including farmers, fishermen, and beverage distributors."
The decrease in unemployment was aided by a 2.7 million decline in the number of people on temporary layoff, which was the case for many in the restaurant industry. That was offset by the number of permanent jobs losers, which rose 295,000 to 2.3 million.
The drop in unemployment comes as a surprise to economic forecasters. White House economic advisor Kevin Hassett told CNN last month that the unemployment rate for May could be more than 20 percent and reach even higher in June. According to Dow Jones, economists expected 8.3 million jobs would be cut and the unemployment rate would be around 19.5 percent.
In the week ending May 30, 1.88 million filed initial claims for unemployment, pushing the 11- week total to around 43 million. That’s a decrease of 249,000 from the previous week when 2.1 million filed. The weekly initial unemployment filings peaked at 6.9 million in the final week of March. For many weeks in a row, the number of claims has decreased; last week marked the first time the figure was under two million since the week ending March 14.
The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending May 23 were in Maine (11,941), Oklahoma (10,274), Michigan (7,859), Kentucky (6,417), and Oregon (4,913).