Jobless Claims Are Still in the Millions Despite Economy’s Reopening

Even as the United States economy reopens and workers are permitted to return to their posts, the number of people who filed for unemployment benefits last week continued to hover in the millions.

According to the Department of Labor, more than 1.5 million Americans submitted jobless claims for the week ended June 13 — higher than the 1.3 million forecasted by economists. It marks the 13th week that weekly applications exceeded one million.

In just over three months, as the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the country, upwards of 45 million people have filed initial claims. The health crisis managed to wipe out all job gains since the Great Recession over the course of a little more than a month as government-mandated lockdowns led nonessential businesses to shut down and subsequently terminate or furlough their workers. (COVID-19 has infected 2.16 million individuals in the U.S. and killed at least 117,700 others.) Prior to the outbreak, claims hovered at just over 200,000 each week.

Nevertheless, initial claims have fallen each week since late March’s peak of 6.9 million, signaling that the worst for the American labor force has passed. Plus, the number of last week’s applications — a 58,000 drop from the previous week’s revised level of 1.56 million — showed that the declines could potentially be stabilizing.

The report also comes two weeks after May employment numbers showed a gain of 2.5 million in nonfarm payrolls and a 13.3% decline in the unemployment rate. Economists had expected a loss of 8.3 million jobs and a rate of 19.5%, which would have been the country’s worst employment record since the era of the Great Depression.

May’s gains marked the largest single-month employment surge in U.S. history since at least 1939. In retail — one of the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic — companies added 368,000 jobs, following a loss of 2.3 million positions in April. Many workers are expected to gradually return to their posts as more states enter the second or third phases of reopening. However, experts have pointed out that it likely will take years for the economy to recover from the tens of millions of jobs lost during the outbreak.

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