No end is in sight for coronavirus-related job losses.
The pandemic has ravaged the US labor market, and 1 in 5 American workers have filed for first-time unemployment benefits since mid-March, when lockdown measures took effect across the country.
Another 3.2 million Americans filed initial jobless claims last week, after factoring in seasonal adjustments, the Department of Labor reported Thursday.
Without those adjustments — which economists use to account for seasonal hiring fluctuations — the raw number was 2.8 million.
That brings the total number of seasonally-adjusted initial claims filed since mid-March to 33.5 million. Initial claims are considered a proxy for layoffs or furloughs, and that level represents about 21% of the March labor force.
These are staggeringly high numbers; weekly jobless claims were hovering in the 200,000s in the last few years before this crisis.
But last week also marked the fifth week in a row that the number of initial claims fell. They peaked at 6.9 million in the last week of March.
Economists say the downward trend is is a good sign that things aren’t getting worse. Still, millions of new claims each week don’t help the brutal overall picture of the job market during this pandemic.
Continued jobless claims, representing workers who filed for a second week of benefits or more, rose to 22.6 million.
Not all claims result in paid benefits. That is in part due to filing mistakes and because not everyone who submits a claim is eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
The continued claims suggest that few people are being called back to work. Those numbers could start to fall in coming weeks as lockdown restrictions begin to ease in some states, said Capital Economics’ chief US economist Paul Ashworth.
But the pace of the recovery will depend on how willing consumers are to venture from their homes and spend money absent a coronavirus vaccine, said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate.
In response to the crisis, the government broadened the definition of who is covered by unemployment benefits to include contractors, the self-employed and workers in the gig economy. The Department of Labor said that as of last week, all 50 states were paying out those extra benefits — but the agency has yet to release detailed breakdowns of how many claims have come in through that program in each state.
It did, however, note a total of 583,699 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance came in between 23 states that reported the data for the week ending May 2.
Overall, the past seven weeks of record-high claims, dwarfing the Labor Department’s historical data, paint a clear picture: America’s job market is in distress and people are suffering.
“The data point to an unprecedented cascading crisis that hit frontline services like restaurants and retail businesses first, but has now reached into every corner of our economy, from manufacturing to even the healthcare industry,” said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation.
In Kentucky, home to many manufacturing plants, the number of initial jobless claims over the past seven weeks equates to nearly 33% of the state’s March labor force. Hawaii and Georgia also have had claims representing more than 30% of their respective workforces.
On Wednesday, the ADP National Employment Report showed more than 20 million jobs were lost in the United States in April. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ official jobs report is due on Friday, with economists polled by Refinitiv expecting to see 22 million job losses and an unemployment rate of 16%, the worst layoffs on record.