About 33 million people have filed for unemployment benefits since the coronavirus started its rapid spread across the United States and decimated the economy.
According to the Labor Department, roughly 3.2 million Americans initiated jobless claims in the last week alone — down from the 3.8 million workers who submitted applications the week before and less than half of the all-time high of 6.8 million applications in late March.
Despite hitting its lowest level since the country went into lockdown, last week’s figure was still slightly higher than economists’ projections of 3.05 million filings. The report comes a day before the Bureau of Labor Statistics is scheduled to release April’s payroll data, which is forecasted to show the worst monthly jobless rate on record. (Economists predict a plunge of 21.5 million jobs, with the unemployment rate swelling to 16%.)
For the month of March, the government noted the first decline in payrolls in nearly a decade: U.S. employers slashed 701,000 payrolls that month — the first drop since September 2010 — while the unemployment rate jumped to 4.4%. The retail sector alone lost 46,000 jobs.
The coronavirus-related layoffs and furloughs have wiped out all gains in the labor force since the Great Recession. (Prior to mid-March, claims hovered at just over 200,000 each week.) Federal social distancing guidelines and states’ stay-at-home orders have kept stores, offices and other businesses shuttered or significantly reduced their operations.
However, an increasing number of states — including Colorado, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee — have begun reopening shops, restaurants and other businesses, which could push workers off of unemployment. In mid-April, the White House announced a three-phase plan to keep restrictions in place in the hardest-hit areas, with less-affected parts of the country able to take the first step if they can prove a downward trend of confirmed COVID-19 cases over a 14-day period.