33 Million Have Sought Jobless Benefits Since Virus Struck

A Mexican restaurant remains closed under current orders to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Friday, May 8, 2020, in South Portland, Maine. (AP)
Christopher Rugaber
The Associated Press

Washington – Nearly 3.2 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last month as the business shutdowns caused by the viral outbreak deepened the worst U.S. economic catastrophe in decades.

Roughly 33.5 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the seven weeks since the coronavirus began forcing millions of companies to close their doors and slash their workforces. That is the equivalent of one in five Americans who had been employed back in February, when the unemployment rate had reached a 50-year low of just 3.5%.

The Labor Department’s report last Thursday suggests that layoffs, while still breathtakingly high, are steadily declining after sharp spikes in late March and early April. Initial claims for unemployment aid have now fallen for five straight weeks, from a peak of nearly 6.9 million during the week that ended March 28.

Applications for jobless aid rose in just six states and declined in the 44 others.

The report showed that 22.7 million people are now receiving unemployment aid – a rough measure of job losses since the shutdowns began. That figure lags behind first-time unemployment applications.

Not everyone who applies for jobless aid is approved. The number of laid-off workers receiving aid is now equal to 15.5% of the workforce that’s eligible for unemployment benefits.

The impact has fallen unevenly on the U.S. population, with Hispanics much more likely to suffer an economic hit. According to a survey in mid-April  by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 61% of Hispanics said their household has lost income because of the coronavirus, whether through a layoff, reduced hours or pay cuts. That compares with 46% of blacks and 43% of whites.

Layoffs have also been more concentrated among the less-educated. Twenty-eight percent of Americans without college degrees say they’ve endured a layoff in their household, compared with 19% of people with college degrees.

The official figures for jobless claims may also be under-counting layoffs. Surveys by academic economists and think tanks suggest that as many as 12 million workers who were laid off by mid-April did not file for unemployment benefits by then, either because they couldn’t navigate their state’s overwhelmed systems or they felt too discouraged to try.

Last Thursday, the government also reported how many self-employed, contractors and gig workers, who are newly eligible for jobless benefits, applied for them last month. Nearly 584,000 people did so. However, that figure isn’t adjusted for seasonal patterns.


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