U.S. employers laid off 7.7 million workers in April — a sign of just how deep the economic hole is after the closure of thousands of offices, restaurants, stores, and schools during the pandemic.
The Labor Department also said in a Tuesday report that job openings plummeted and hiring all but disappeared in April. The number of available jobs fell 16% from March to 5 million. Hires declined 31% to 3.5 million.
The grim April — which followed an even bleaker March with 11.5 million layoffs — suggests that the economy could take time to recover nearly a decade’s worth of gains that vanished in about 60 days. Hiring did rebound in May as 2.5 million jobs were added on the net, the government said in a separate report Friday. But those gains appeared to reflect temporarily laid-off employees returning to work and increases in people with part-time jobs, rather than an economy at full throttle.
The Tuesday report shows how employers responded quickly to the pandemic by furloughing or laying off workers in March, though that slowed the following month as consumer spending appeared to bottom out and even recover slightly. The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, details overall hiring and job separation figures, while the monthly jobs data reflect net changes.
The next several months could be a challenge as monthly hiring was only at 60% of 2019′s average. There are 4.6 unemployed workers for each job opening, meaning it will likely take time for the economy to return to its pre-coronavirus health.
While the majority of jobless Americans currently collecting unemployment believe they’ll be recalled to work within six months, a recent report from the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute predicts that 42% of all jobs lost during the first six weeks of the coronavirus pandemic will become permanent. 
As of May, more than 15 million Americans were on furlough or temporarily laid off from work, according to the Labor Department’s latest jobs report. (The Bureau of Labor statistics acknowledges that the number of furloughed workers is likely higher due to classification errors).
Though the jobs report shows evidence of a slow economic rebound — employment rose by 2.5 million as the country began to reopen after weeks of the shutdown and devastating unemployment — it’s still possible a temporary furlough could become a permanent layoff.
CNBC Make It spoke with employment experts to understand what workers should know if they find themselves in this situation.

Your employer may have to notify you of a layoff in advance

Depending on where you live and who you work for, your employer may have to give you a certain amount of advance warning that your furlough will become a permanent layoff.
The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN, Act, says employers with 100 or more full-time employees may be required to provide at least 60 days written notice of certain group terminations. This can include a plant closure, where 50 or more full-time employees lose their jobs at one facility within the organization. It also applies to a mass layoff, defined as when an employer lays off 50 to 499 workers who make up at least one-third of the workforce, or a layoff of 500 or more people at the organization within a certain time period.
Generally, the WARN Act requires covered employers to give affected employees 60 days notice of a layoff. They’ll also be required to notify employees if they expect their furlough period to last more than six months.
In some instances, your employer may be able to give less advance notice if they can prove the layoff is a result of business circumstances that aren’t “reasonably foreseeable.” This can include an unexpected and dramatic major economic downturn, or a government-ordered closing of an employment site without prior notice, both of which could be applied due to the pandemic. Still, employers remain responsible for informing employees with as much warning as possible.
While guidelines are provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, violations are addressed after the fact through private legal action brought in the U.S. District Courts. Employers proven to have failed to follow the WARN Act may face penalties, and workers may be entitled to wages for each day of violation up to 60 days.
Amber Clayton, knowledge center director for the Society for Human Resource Management, adds that some states may have stricter clauses under the WARN Act, such as a lower threshold of what counts as a mass layoff, a longer period of required advance notice before a layoff, or when an employer can be exempt from coverage. You can check if you’re protected, and to what extent, from your state’s department of labor site.
Union members may also be protected by their collective bargaining agreements and should check for further details with their union representatives.

When to expect your last paycheck

Depending on the state, you may have already received your final paycheck on the last day you worked before being furloughed. This final paycheck may have included a payout of any accrued vacation time or bonuses.
If you’re entitled to this payout but didn’t receive it before being furloughed, you should expect it on the date of your final termination, within a certain number of business days following your termination or on the following payday. Your final paycheck will also account for any work you may have done intermittently during your furlough, which will depend if you were hourly or salaried.
According to insurance review site Policygenius, seven states require payment for unused vacation following a layoff, 37 require payment if it’s included in an employment contract or the company follows a PTO accrual system and the remaining six states don’t have legislation regarding paying out PTO after a worker leaves.
Unused paid sick time is generally not included in a final paycheck.

Have a plan for your health coverage, retirement account, and employer-sponsored benefits

Furloughed employees generally maintain their health-care coverage and some other employer-sponsored benefits while they’re not working.
If your furlough becomes a layoff, you’ll need to figure out a new plan for your health-care coverage.
One option may be through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA, which entitles workers who’ve lost their jobs to stay on their employer’s health insurance plan for up to 18 months. This can be an expensive option, however, as you’ll be responsible for 100% of your premiums, plus a 2% administrative fee.
You may be able to ask whether your employer can cover some or all of these costs for either the full 18-month period or until you’re able to get insurance through a spouse’s plan, through the marketplace or from another alternative.
If you receive life insurance or disability income insurance from your employer, discuss whether they can extend coverage for a period of time after you’re laid off. One month is a good place to start. Clayton adds you can consider whether to port your existing group coverage to an individual plan, or to another plan with a new employer.
Have a plan for other health coverage, such as dental and vision insurance. Your employer can tell you what your options are for these moving forward, or they may direct you to contact the administrator of each work-sponsored benefit to understand exactly what will happen to your coverage after termination.
If you have a 401(k) through work, understand whether you can keep the funds where they are, or if you’ll need to roll it into another investment vehicle by a certain deadline.
You may also want to think about other discounts you’ve gotten through work, whether that’s a phone plan, internet package, or membership to a gym or wellness services, Clayton adds. Try going directly to the service provider, letting them know your situation, and asking if they can continue your service at the same rate as you got through your employer, she says.

How your severance package may work

There’s no requirement under the Fair Labor Standards Act that mandates companies provide severance following a layoff. However, according to a survey from Randstad Risesmart, an outplacement service, 56% of HR leaders reported they offered severance to all employees following an involuntary separation; the remaining 44% offered it to only some employees, primarily officers, senior executives and managers with the company. Unionized workers may be entitled to severance based on the terms of their collective bargaining agreement.
A severance agreement will often outline what kind of pay and benefits you’ll receive after termination, provided that you agree to a non-compete clause, a non-disclosure agreement or terms you won’t sue or disparage the company.
If you’re presented a severance agreement, it may be worth calling in legal counsel to review its terms and remember that you don’t have to respond to it right away. Under the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, employees over 40 must be given 21 days to consider the offer; after signing, they have seven days to change their decision. If you and at least one other person are laid off in a group termination, you’ll have 45 days to consider a severance offer, regardless of age.

Your eligibility for unemployment will probably stay the same

Your unemployment benefit will stay the same if your furlough becomes a layoff, says Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project. If you receive your final paycheck or a severance payout, you’ll need to report it on your weekly unemployment filing. Your benefit amount may be reduced, or you may be ineligible to receive a benefit that week. However, you’ll still qualify for the extended 39 weeks of unemployment assistance laid out in the federal stimulus bill passed in March and effective through the end of the year.

Coronavirus Obliterated Best African-American Job Market on Record

Near the end of a decade-long economic expansion, African-Americans were finally finding some financial stability. Unemployment had reached record lows, and their wages had begun rising modestly.
Anthony Steward, 34, a Milwaukee cook, personified that progress. In 2018, he said, he left his $10.50-an-hour corporate-cafeteria job for one paying $15 at Fiserv Forum, home of basketball’s Milwaukee Bucks, serving steaks, chicken wings and eggplant mozzarella for luxury-box guests.
He loved it. Mr. Steward said he cooked for Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and rapper Ja Rule and was due for a union-negotiated raise to $16.50 this summer.
The coronavirus pandemic and shutdown brought all of that—one of the most promising economies in recent memory for African-Americans—to a crushing end.
In March, Mr. Steward was laid off after the National Basketball Association suspended its season due to Covid-19. Late last month, he became ill and was subsequently diagnosed with the disease, he said. Then he saw the pharmacy and restaurants in his Lincoln Creek neighborhood looted and vandalized following protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd.
“It was like everything was falling into place, and now it’s all paused,” Mr. Steward said. He doesn’t know if he will return to his old job because it is unclear when the NBA will allow fans to return to arenas. He wants to work once he’s recovered—he is concerned about health-care bills because he has no insurance—but suspects he’ll have to take a pay cut because many in the food-service industry are unemployed.

Anthony Steward lost his cook's job after the NBA suspended the season.

“It will be a struggle to provide for your family,” he said, “especially in the black community.” The Bucks referred to the team’s previous statement that the team and players established a relief fund to assist part-time employees like Mr. Steward.
The black unemployment rate, which at 5.8% in February was near the lowest since records began in 1972, tripled to 16.8% in May, according to the Labor Department.
Even when unemployment was low, African-Americans’ overall economic situation was fragile. As a group, they had less job security and wealth than whites, leaving them especially vulnerable when the economy shut down. That now weighs on their prospects as the steepest economic contraction since the 1930s shows signs of turning. Historically, African-Americans’ recovery from recessions has been much slower than those of other groups.
The disease itself also hit African-Americans harder, medically, and financially, in part because of longstanding inequities such as a lack of access to medical care and disproportionate representation in less secure low-wage jobs, said Bradley Hardy, an economist at American University. “These protests are also a response to broader insecurity in these communities,” he said.
“You don’t feel secure with law enforcement,” said Mr. Hardy, “you don’t feel secure in your housing, with your health, or with employment.”
Unemployment rate, by raceSource: Labor DepartmentNote: Seasonally adjusted
This slump has defied precedent in so many ways, it is too early to conclude African-Americans’ recovery will follow previous patterns. And some experts see the protests as an opportunity to make fundamental changes.
“It’s a mistake to disconnect the social from the economic,” said Andre Perry, a scholar at the Brookings Institution. “Criminal-justice reform can lead to economic justice. The more we become aware of how we’re devaluing black lives, the more that education will unearth how we’re choking out people in economic policy.”
Wage lag
For most Americans, today’s double-digit unemployment is without modern precedent. But not for African-Americans. Black unemployment topped 10% from September 1974 through November 1994 and again from July 2008 through February 2015. Its peak in the last recession, at 16.8%, equals the level reached in May.
The decline from that high was slow, and black wages persistently lagged behind inflation. But as the expansion lengthened, that began to change. Employers increasingly gave chances to people passed over before, including those with long stretches of unemployment and fewer educational credentials. And with competition for talent so fierce, biases that held back the hiring and promotion of African-American workers carried less weight.
In August 2019, just after the expansion became the longest on record, black unemployment dropped to 5.4%, just 2 percentage points above the rate for white workers—the narrowest gap since data began in 1972.
Wages, which largely failed to keep pace with inflation early in the economic expansion, began to accelerate in mid-2018. The African-American poverty rate fell below 30% in 2017 and 2018 for the first time on record back to the mid-1970s, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In March and April, 3.5 million African-Americans lost their jobs. While black employment rose in May, it did so by less than for whites and Hispanics. The employment gain was also less than the increase in the African-American labor force—those working or actively looking for work. That is why the black unemployment rate rose while others fell.
“Job losses due to the pandemic were fairly evenly distributed across racial groups,” said Valerie Wilson, an economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “In just one month, you’ve seen the recovery will not be.” She noted that while private-sector employment rose in May, municipal governments and school systems—large employers of African-Americans—cut thousands of jobs.
Unemployment rate, by race and education levelSource: Labor DepartmentNote: 25 years and older
%Black, High schoolgraduateWhite, High schoolgraduates, no collegeBlack, Bachelor's degreeand higherWhite, Bachelor'sdegree and higher1995'05'
A faster recovery that returns black employment to pre-pandemic levels is possible. Congress has authorized more than $2 trillion in stimuli such as checks to households, enhanced jobless benefits, and the Paycheck Protection Program, loans that are forgiven to employers who retain workers. And more than 80% of those who lost a job recently expect to be recalled within six months, according to the Labor Department.
‘Messed up my world’
Between 2014 and 2017, Lakisha Hubacek of Providence Village, Texas, worked temporary jobs after being laid off from a company where she had worked for seven years. “I worked five months here, six months here,” she said. “That leaves a sense of uneasiness.”

‘This has totally messed up my world,’ says Lakisha Hubacek, furloughed in March.

In 2017, she said, she found a job as an accounts-payable coordinator at Ashford Inc.’s Remington Hotels making $20 an hour. The job gave her a sense of professional stability. “It was a relief,” said Ms. Hubacek, 43. “I thought this was going to be a really great opportunity, and then maybe I could move up.”
She was furloughed in March, as hotel occupancy across the country plummeted, and then laid off in May. “Looking for a job is so difficult right now,” said Ms. Hubacek, who is widowed and has two children. “This has totally messed up my world from the top to the bottom.” Remington declined to comment on Ms. Hubacek, saying that in laying off some workers: “We did not approach these decisions lightly.”
Ms. Hubacek is trying to find a silver lining. She is devoting more time to her e-commerce startup, FallingStar Naturals, which makes and sells skin-care products, including hand sanitizer. She saw sales pick up early in the pandemic. She is hopeful the business will grow while she is between jobs.
“I would rather focus my time on building my business, growing our money, instead of making somebody else rich,” she said. The prospect is risky, she said: “If I fail, I fail alone….I don’t really have anybody to really back me up or save me if something happens.”
U.S. home-ownership rates, by raceSource: U.S. Census Bureau
Even with historically low unemployment, African-Americans’ financial position wasn’t particularly strong heading into the pandemic. Federal Reserve data shows African-American families’ median net worth was $17,600 in 2016, versus $171,000 for white households.
In the fourth quarter of 2019, 44% of African-Americans owned homes, down 4 percentage points from 2007, just before the last recession, according to the Census Bureau. The white homeownership rate was 74%, down just 1 point. In 95% of majority-black neighborhoods, most small businesses operated with a cash buffer of two weeks or less, compared with roughly 30% of majority-white neighborhoods, according to research from the JPMorgan Chase Institute.
Less cushion
African-Americans have less of a cushion to tide them over if they lose jobs, and those who still have jobs, such as the self-employed, have fewer resources to draw on. Houston lawyer Ashton Taylor, 42, opened his practice in 2011, relying on family to help with the startup costs. Since opening the firm, he said, he hadn’t been able to secure a business line of credit through his bank but had still expanded his client base through professional networking.
“My business was ramping up only because of my relationships,” Mr. Taylor said, “but I still didn’t have access to capital.”
Most of his work involves representing low-income African-American clients, he said. But because of the pandemic, courts have closed and some clients can’t pay their bills, so he is considering pursuing more lucrative clients. “My passion as far as representing people who can’t normally afford attorneys is going to have to go on the back burner, and that makes me kind of sad.”
Antwanye Ford, chief executive at Enlightened Inc., a Washington, D.C., firm offering cybersecurity, management consulting and other business services, said work for roughly 30 of his employees who work as contractors at other firms dried up amid the pandemic, but he has kept them employed through the Paycheck Protection Program.
As the economy reopens, said Mr. Ford, 55, he worries some of his employees, fearing that black-owned businesses are ill-prepared to weather the pandemic, might look for opportunities at larger firms. “Some of the folks don’t want to leave and they have a good job and, I think, a good company. But they have to look out for themselves,” Mr. Ford said. “For black business owners, whether it’s stated or unstated, that’s what the staff is going to feel: ‘Are we OK?’ ”
More than 20,000 African-Americans have died of Covid-19, representing 23% of all deaths, though African-Americans are only 12.5% of the U.S. population, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says African-Americans are more likely to live in densely populated cities where transmission is higher, more likely to have underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and less likely to have health insurance and access to nearby medical care.
African-Americans are also more likely to work in jobs that can’t be done from home, and thus were at heightened risk either of exposure to the virus if the jobs were deemed essential, or of unemployment, if they weren’t.
In recent weeks, the daily death rate had dropped and states began to reopen their economies.
Then Mr. Floyd’s killing was captured on video, triggering protests that quickly spread to other cities and familiar frustrations for many African-Americans. “This one hits harder,” Mr. Ford said, “because you saw a person who was a narrator of his own death.”
Median usual weekly earnings, change fromstart of 2007 - 2009 recession, by raceSource: Labor DepartmentNote: Four-quarter moving average for full-timeworkers, adjusted for inflation with consumer pricesindex
Persistent economic disparities contributed to the unrest, said Brookings’, Mr. Perry. Brookings analysis shows that in 2018, the median income for black households in the Minneapolis region was $38,200, less than half that of white households at $85,400. There was also a large black-white homeownership gap in the area, and African-Americans were disproportionately stopped by police, the Brookings analysis found.
Such racial disparities had “formed a powder keg that exploded over the past few years,” said Mr. Perry. “The property damage and the wealth losses created by structural racism in housing, education and health care has caused more damage than any riot could possibly cause.”
Ramon Gladney, an African-American barber on Chicago’s South Side, said the pandemic and civil unrest had changed his community and his profession.
He was unemployed for 10 weeks after state officials closed shops like his. He received his first unemployment payment on Wednesday, June 3—the same day his shop was allowed to reopen.
His business and neighborhood look much different from when he closed. Nearby dollar stores where he would run to grab supplies or a drink have been closed after looting. Neighbors are worried the grocery store, which helped drive traffic to his shop, will be permanently closed after sustaining damage.
Mr. Gladney, 40, had to remove chairs in his shop where customers would hang out and chat—new regulations bar people from waiting inside for a trim. Relying mainly on reservations rather than a steady stream of walk-in customers means he’ll earn less. “It’s been mentally draining,” he said of the virus. “I’m hoping there’s not relapse because I can’t take another financial hit and survive.”
The recent outpouring of protest is generating intense debate about race in America—and ideas. Mr. Ford said he would like to see measures that specifically address African-Americans, given the health, social and economic disparities the pandemic and Mr. Floyd’s killing laid bare. Mr. Ford suggested training black workers in high-demand occupations over the next several months, such as contact tracing.
The current social unrest feels different from other recent instances “because it’s sustaining itself,” he said. But without progress on “the wealth gap, inequities when it comes to salaries and job types and access to capital, then we just had a moment.”