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Unemployment Rate 14.7%, Could Hit 25%, Great Depression Era Numbers

By Michael W. Chapman | May 18, 2020 | 10:40am EDT
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the national unemployment rate in April was 14.7%, a rate not seen since the Great Depression era of the 1930s under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

In addition, the investment firm Goldman Sachs predicts that the national unemployment rate will likely peak at 25%, reported Forbes. The highest national unemployment rate during the Depression was 25.59% in May 1933. 

The U.S. unemployment rate from April 1929 to June 1942. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president from March 1933 until his death in office in April 1945.
The U.S. unemployment rate from April 1929 to June 1942. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president from March 1933 until his death in office in April 1945.

Also, when asked if the U.S. unemployment rate could hit 20% or 25%, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said, “I think there’re a range of perspectives. But those numbers sound about right for what the peak may be.”

In other words, the U.S. unemployment rate already is at Great Depression-era levels. The numbers today have not been seen since the 1930s.

And, as the data from the National Bureau of Economic Research show, the United States did not really emerge from the Depression until the spring of 1941. By December 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. unemployment rate was down to 3.58%. 

U.S. unemployment rates from May 1939 to March 1942. (NBER)
U.S. unemployment rates from May 1939 to March 1942. (NBER)

By June 1942, with the United States fully engaged in World War II, the unemployment rate was down to 0.24%. 

The unemployment rate in the Great Depression really started to trend up in October 1930, when it hit 9.01%. 

When the Democrat Franklin Roosevelt was elected president in November 1932, the national unemployment rate was 24.67%. When he was reelected in November 1936, the unemployment rate was 13.24%. 

U.S. unemployment rates from November 1932 to August 1935. (NBER)
U.S. unemployment rates from November 1932 to August 1935. (NBER)

In June 1938, unemployment was way up again at 20.0%. It stayed in the high- to mid-teens until June 1940 (14.96%). Then it started to steadily trend downward. It hit 3.88% in July 1941, four months before the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941. 

In the United States today, since mid-March, 36.5 million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance, reported Bloomberg News

American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) (left) lights a cigarette as he speaks with Soviet General Secretary Joseph Stalin (1878 - 1953) during a break in a photo-op session at the Yalta Conference held at the Livadia Palace, Livadiya (near Yalta), Soviet Union (later Ukraine), February 1945. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) (left) lights a cigarette as he speaks with Soviet General Secretary Joseph Stalin (1878 - 1953) during a break in a photo-op session at the Yalta Conference held at the Livadia Palace, Livadiya (near Yalta), Soviet Union (later Ukraine), February 1945. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

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