The claim: America had the lowest unemployment rate in history a year ago
As the COVID-19 pandemic came into focus in the spring of 2020 and swaths of the country shut down to slow the spread of the virus, the number of people filing jobless claims surged in the U.S.
The U.S. unemployment rates in April, May and June 2020 were the highest since 1948, the earliest seasonally adjusted data available through the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The crush of claims was so large and so swift that some state unemployment systems couldn’t handle the rush.
But an April 24 post circulating on Facebook falsely claims unemployment had fallen to the lowest level in U.S. history at this time last year.
“Why do we need a $4 trillion jobs plan, when a year ago we had the lowest unemployment in history without using taxpayers money,” the post asks, referencing a spending plan President Joe Biden has proposed.
Although unemployment was relatively low before the pandemic, it was not the lowest in the country’s history.
The Facebook user who shared the post did not respond to a request for comment.
Historically high unemployment
While the Facebook post claiming that unemployment was at a historic low a year ago has been shared nearly 300 times, the opposite is true.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 14.8% in April 2020, the highest rate since 1948 as governments imposed restrictions to stop the spread of the coronavirus and businesses closed around the country.
Unemployment systems in several states were overwhelmed by the surge in claims. Fewer than half of claims in Ohio were processed within 21 days, the federal standard for success, near the peak of joblessness. Florida took down its system in April 2020 to deal with a backlog of claims.
The unemployment rate has steadily fallen again since the historic high. It dipped to 13.3% in May, 11.1% in June and 10.2% in July. Those months accounted for four of the 15 times since 1948 that the U.S. has had double-digit unemployment, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
In March 2021, the unemployment rate was 6%.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have seasonally adjusted unemployment data from before 1948, but its annual data from the Great Depression shows rates of more than 20% from 1932 to 1935.
Before the pandemic, the U.S. unemployment rate was on a hot streak. It was less than 4% for 13 consecutive months, dipping to 3.5% three times.
That still wasn’t a historic low though. In 1968 and 1969, the unemployment rate was at 3.5% or less in 17 out of the 24 months. The unemployment rate was 3.5% or lower for nearly three straight years between 1951 and 1953.
The lowest monthly unemployment rate since 1948 was 2.5% in May and June 1953, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Our rating: False
The claim that America had the lowest unemployment rate in history a year ago is FALSE, based on our research. In April 2020, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 14.8% as jobless claims soared during the pandemic. It was one of 15 months since 1948 that the U.S. unemployment rate reached double-digits, and the highest rate recorded in that time. Unemployment was low prior to the pandemic, sitting at 3.5% in February 2020. But that still was not the lowest in history. The unemployment rate was lower than 3.5% for nearly two full years between the end of 1951 and most of 1953. Lower rates were recorded in 1968 and 1969 as well.
Our fact-check sources:
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed May 6, Monthly unemployment rate, seasonally adjusted
The Cincinnati Enquirer, May 27, 2020, 'This is unacceptable': Ohio's unemployment system overwhelmed by COVID-19 closures
The Tallahassee Democrat, April 24, 2020, Florida's overwhelmed unemployment system taken down for weekend
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed May 6, Labor statistics, The Great Depression
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed May 6, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey
The Washington Post, May 3, 2019, U.S. unemployment fell to 3.6 percent, lowest since 1969
Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, March 2, 2020, Why Is Unemployment Currently So Low?
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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Unemployment hit historic high, not low, during pandemic