The latest report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the plastics industry continues to make essential products to protect healthcare workers and patients. The economy lost 701,000 jobs in March as business activities slowed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus and measures to contain it. Most of the jobs lost were in the services sector – 659,000 – as non-essential businesses closed. Total manufacturing lost 18,000 jobs – 7,000 in durable goods and 11,000 in nondurable goods manufacturing.  Plastics and rubber manufacturing, however, added 1,600 jobs in March.

Looking at the March numbers from two unemployment measures, U-3, which is the official unemployment rate, and U-6, which is the rate including discouraged workers no longer looking for a job and part-time workers seeking full-time work, both numbers increased dramatically from February. The official unemployment rate rose to 4.4% in March from 3.5% in February. The U-6 rate rose to 8.7% from 7.0% over the same period. The gap between both unemployment measures is usually the widest following an output contraction as the labor market continues to adjust. The difference between U-3 and U-6 in 2010 was 7.4 percentage points following the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. In March it was 4.3 percentage points.

Labor market conditions in April will continue to reflect the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The weekly unemployment insurance claims rose from 0.2 million on March 7 to 6.6 million on March 28. Judging from the dramatic increase in the unemployment claims data, job numbers will most likely be dismal in April given that the labor absorption capacity of the economy has weakened significantly. Any improvements in labor markets will depend on the speed of containment of the coronavirus pandemic. For the moment, the negative impact of the coronavirus on the labor market will continue to be greater in the services sector, unrelated to healthcare and consumer essentials, than in the goods-producing sector of the economy – especially businesses making products that are in high demand in the healthcare sector.