Millions of Americans again filed for unemployment benefits last week, as the coronavirus recession drags on.
Another 1.9 million workers filed for initial unemployment aid last week, according to the US Department of Labor. More than a quarter of the labor force – 42.6 million people – has now claimed benefits since the pandemic began ravaging the US labor market.
For 11 weeks in a row, jobless claims have been in the millions. Before the pandemic, the labor department had never recorded a single week of jobless claims over a million.
Stripping out seasonal adjustments – which usually help smooth out the data over time but add unnecessary noise during this unprecedented crisis – first-time claims stood at 1.6 million, a slight decrease from the prior week.
Regular initial claims have fallen in every report over the past 10 weeks, ever since first-time claims peaked at 6.9 million in the last week of March. Still, the last week’s claims were higher than economists had expected. That’s not a good sign for the recovery everyone is hoping for.
Besides the filings for regular unemployment claims, more than 600,000 Americans filed for pandemic unemployment assistance last week. That’s half of last week’s 1.2 million PUA claimants.
But state reporting on pandemic assistance hasn’t been as streamlined as reporting for regular claims. That’s making the numbers more erratic, said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.
And that complicates the math when trying to determine how many people need unemployment aid, said Heidi Shierholz, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, in a thread of tweets.
Adding unadjusted regular and pandemic claims, 2.2 million people filed for first-time benefits last week.
The pandemic program allows people who don’t qualify for regular unemployment assistance, such as freelancers, to receive benefits during the crisis.
Across the country, people are also still struggling to get through to their state labor departments, which continue to be overwhelmed by the onslaught of claimants. This problem has persisted throughout this crisis.
Not yet the recovery we hoped for
Last week’s data marked the first report in which continuing jobless claims fell. Cntinuing claims count people who have filed benefits for at least two weeks in a row. Economists were hopeful, because a steady decline in continued claims would mean more people are getting back to work than are reliant on unemployment aid. Experts began shifting their focus from initial claims to continuing claims in May, as the number of first-time filers continued to drop.
But it didn’t work out as planned.
This week’s report showed continued claims climbing to 21.5 million, an slight increase from the week prior. Continued claims data trails first-time claims by a week.
Continued pandemic claims now stand are 10.4 million, up from 7.8 million in last week’s report. Again, the big jump in the PUA numbers is likely due to the erratic reporting from some states, but the total number is expected to keep climbing.
That’s disappointing sign and casts an ugly shadow over the theory that things are getting better. It once again proves that the road to recovery for America’s labor market will be painfully slow even as the economy is beginning to reopen. And moving faster to reopen could increase the threat of spreading Covid-19.
The reversal of the decline notwithstanding, net monthly job growth could resume in June, given the economy continues to reopen across the country, said PNC chief economist Gus Faucher.
But one way or another, America remains in a jobless crisis.
In Georgia, more than 45% of the pre-pandemic labor force has filed for regular unemployment benefits. In Kentucky, the number is also above 40%.
Adding first-time and continuing claims under all programs together, brings the total nationwide number of workers in need of benefits as of March 23 to 37.5 million, said Shierholz.
“Policymakers need to do much, much more to fight this recession and set our economy up for a strong recovery, which will not happen without intervention,” she added.
Friday’s BLS jobs report is expected to show a US unemployment rate of nearly 20% in May, with 28.5 million jobs eliminated over the past two months. That’s an unemployment rate not recorded since the Great Depression, and the highest monthly level since the data collection began in 1948.
Jobless claims don’t equal lost jobs as the Labor Department’s data and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ numbers are based on different surveys. The jobs report is due on Friday at 8:30 am ET.