Record rise in OECD unemployment rate in April 2020

The OECD unemployment rate increased by an unprecedented 2.9 percentage points in April 2020 to 8.4%, compared to 5.5% in March, reflecting the impact of Covid-19 containment measures. The number of unemployed people in the OECD area increased by 18.4 million to 55 million in April. The United States accounted for the main part of this increase, with a rise in unemployed of 15.9 million.

The unemployment rate rose faster among women than among men in OECD countries; increasing by 3.3 percentage points in April (to 9.1%) compared to an increase of 2.6 percentage points (to 7.9%) for men. Younger people (aged 15 to 24) have been particularly affected by the crisis. The youth unemployment rate surged by 5.5 percentage points (to 17.6%), compared to an increase of 2.7 percentage points for people aged 25 and above.

However, there have been significant differences in the pace of increases across OECD economies. In the euro area (up to 7.3% from 7.1% in March) and in Japan (2.6% from 2.5%), they were moderate but in Canada (13.0%, from 7.8%), Colombia (19.9%, from 12.2%) and the United States (14.7%, the highest level since the series started in January 1948, from 4.4%), unemployment rates surged.

Early data for May (referring to the week ending 16 May) show that the unemployment rate continued to increase in Canada (by 0.7 percentage point, to 13.7%, the highest level since comparable data became available in 1976) but it decreased by 1.4 percentage points (to 13.3%) in the United States. Administrative data for May showed an increase of 0.5 percentage point in the registered unemployment rate for Germany but stability in Belgium and a fall in Norway (although still about five percentage points higher than in February 2020).

It should be noted that unemployment statistics do not account for the full amount of labour market slack due to Covid-19. In Italy, the 1.7 percentage points fall in the unemployment rate in April mainly reflects the rise in the number of persons of working age (15-64 years) classified as out of the labour force, e.g. people reporting that they were unavailable to work as the closure of schools and care services during the lockdown had increased their family responsibilities.