More than 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits between March 21st and March 28th, breaking a record high set the previous week as more jurisdictions enforce stay-at-home measures in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Pennsylvania submitted the highest number of claims (363,012) followed by Ohio (189,263) and Massachusetts (141,003). In total, roughly 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits during the past two weeks.
Workers most affected by the closures include servers, hotel staff, bartenders, flight attendants, cruise staff, hairdressers, massage therapists, gym staff, movie theater staff, and anyone who works in the entertainment industry.
Koh’s, Macy’s, and other retailers said on Monday they would furlough tens of thousands of employees as they prepare to extend store closures.
Based on the latest data from the Labor Department, economists expect unemployment to continue escalating in the coming weeks.
“Four years of job gains have evaporated in the span of two weeks,” notes Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor. “Today’s report is a one-two punch for an economy reeling from the coronavirus outbreak. As more states and localities shut down non-essential businesses to preserve public health in response to the coronavirus outbreak, initial claims are likely to continue to produce eye-popping reports.”
Before the coronavirus hit, the Trump Administration had achieved the longest employment boom in US history.
“A rough look at the most affected industries suggests a potential payroll job loss of over 16 million jobs,” says David Kelly, a global strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management. “The loss would be enough to boost the unemployment rate from roughly 3.5% to 12.5%, which would be its highest rate since the Great Depression.”
To compare, it took about six months to add 10 million people to the unemployment rolls following the financial crisis in 2008. This time, it took just two weeks.
Heidi Shierholz, who served as chief economist under President Obama, predicts 20 million workers will be laid off or furloughed by July. “The job loss we have seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg.”
President Trump last week signed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package designed to keep workers and businesses afloat during the pandemic. In addition to one-time payments to workers making less than $99,000 per year, the package boosts unemployment insurance, adds $600 a week to the amount of the existing benefits, and expands eligibility requirements to include gig workers and the self-employed.
To date, the United States has reported a total of 243,870 cases of COVID-19 and more than 5,800 deaths.