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The National Bureau of Economic Research on Monday confirmed what everyone already knew: The United States is in a recession. But there is some good news too: the employment situation improved a bit in May, with the unemployment rate falling to 13.3 percent, from 14.7 percent in April.

There’s a bit of controversy about the true unemployment level — counting workers who are still getting paid but not actually showing up for work, the unemployment rate was actually 19.7 percent in April and 16.3 percent in May. Many of those workers are probably on temporary paid leave during the pandemic; this is just what the Paycheck Protection Program was designed to encourage. But this ambiguity doesn’t matter very much because counting these temporarily idled workers as unemployed substantially increases the size of the May improvement.

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