WASHINGTON: Nearly 3 million laid-off workers applied for US unemployment benefits last week as the viral outbreak led more companies to slash jobs even though most states have begun to let some businesses reopen under certain restrictions.
The wave of layoffs may not subside until Congress can agree on providing rescue aid for financially desperate state and local governments as well as further help for households. Republicans and the Trump administration are locked in a standoff with Democrats, who have proposed trillions more in aid beyond the nearly $3 trillion already allocated to individuals and businesses. Republican leaders say they want to first see how previous aid affects the economy and have expressed skepticism about approving much more spending now.
Roughly 36 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the two months since the coronavirus first forced millions of businesses to close their doors and shrink their workforces, the Labor Department said Thursday. An additional 842,000 people applied for aid last week through a separate federal program set up for the self- employed and gig workers.
All told, the figures point to a job market gripped by its worst crisis in decades and an economy that is sinking into a severe downturn. The report suggests the tentative reopening of some businesses in many states has done little to reverse the flow of mass layoffs.
Last week’s pace of new applica- tions for aid is four times the record high that prevailed before the coronavirus struck hard in March.
Jobless workers in some states are still reporting difficulty applying for or receiving benefits. These include freelance, gig and self-employed workers, who became eligible for jobless aid this year.
In Georgia, one of the first states to partially reopen its economy, the number of unemployment claims rose last week to 241,000. In Florida, which has allowed restaurants to reopen at one-quarter capacity, claims jumped to nearly 222,000, though that state’s unemployment agency has struggled to process claims. Other states that have lifted some restrictions, such as South Carolina and Texas, reported large declines in claims.
President Donald Trump appeared to respond to the report by tweeting: “Good numbers coming out of States that are opening. America is getting its life back.”
The latest jobless claims follow a devastating jobs report last week. The government said the unemployment rate soared to 14.7 percent in April, the highest rate since the Great Depression, and employers shed a stunning 20.5 million jobs. A decade’s worth of job growth was wiped out in a single month.
Even those figures failed to capture the full scale of the damage. The government said many workers in April were counted as employed but absent from work but should have been counted as temporarily unemployed.
Millions of other laid-off workers didn’t look for a new job in April, discouraged by their prospects in a mostly shuttered economy, and weren’t included, either. If all those people had been counted as unemployed, the jobless rate would have reached nearly 24 percent.
Most economists have forecast that the official unemployment rate could hit 18 percent or higher in May before potentially declining by summer.