Today’s Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate of a 15.1 percent unemployment rate in April only reflects half of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 unemployment surge

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Today’s release by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of a 15.1% April unemployment rate for Massachusetts essentially reports the damage that has been done during the first five weeks of Massachusetts’ ten-week long unemployment tsunami. Since this data was collected by the U.S. Census Bureau during the week of April 12-18, Massachusetts has received 381,687 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims and 210,485 regular unemployment claims (UI) filed between April 20 and May 16. These UI and PUA claims equate to 15.6 percent of the MA civilian workforce as of March 14, when the unemployment surge began.

MA Civilian workforce March 14 3,740,602
UI Claims April 19 – May 16 210,485
PUA Claims April 19  – May 16 371,202
Total 581,687
Total UI and PUA claims April 19 to May 16 as a percentage MA March 14 civilian workforce 15.6%

This does not mean that the MA unemployment rate is 15.1% plus 15.6%. I estimate conservatively that today’s MA unemployment rate is above 22 percent.

It is unknown how many recent UI and PUA claimants may have given up looking for a job, which would make them non-countable as unemployed individuals under the federal unemployment rate reporting methodology. In addition, it does not reflect how many recent unemployment claimants have returned to their old jobs due to the Payroll Protection Plan included in the $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act or otherwise become re-employed. According to a report written by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the official U.S. unemployment rate for April likely substantially understates job losses from the coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday, May 13, economists at Goldman Sachs forecasted that the unemployment rate in the United States will peak at 25%.


Gregory W. Sullivan is the Research Director at the Pioneer Institute, overseeing the divisions PioneerPublic and PioneerOpportunity. He also previously served as Inspector General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for 10 years and in the Massachusetts House of Representatives for 17 years. Mr. Sullivan has a Master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School at Harvard University and a second Master’s degree concentrating in finance from the Sloan School at MIT.