The United States economy continues to buckle under the strain of the coronavirus.
According to the Labor Department, another 3.8 million workers filed for unemployment benefits last week. (Economists had predicted 3.5 million claims.) It brings the total number of jobless claims since the outbreak swept the country to more than 30 million, which represents roughly 18.6% of the American labor force.
Prior to the widespread lockdowns instituted in mid-March, claims hovered at just over 200,000 each week. Since then, companies across the board have laid off and furloughed millions of employees, as stay-at-home orders kept stores, offices and other businesses shuttered or significantly reduced their operations.
In the first monthly jobs report since the crisis swept the country, the Bureau of Labor Statistics early in April noted the first decline in payrolls in nearly a decade: U.S. employers slashed 701,000 payrolls in March — the first drop since September 2010 — while the unemployment rate jumped to 4.4%.
Footwear and apparel retailers have been particularly hard hit: Last month, the retail sector lost 46,000 jobs, as department stores, fashion brands and specialty retailers temporarily closed their doors across the country. (Most of the data used in the jobs report was collected in the first half of March, just before states and localities imposed broad shutdowns to help stem the spread of COVID-19.)
Last month, President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus package which allows jobless workers to receive weekly pay of $600 for four months on top of state benefits, as well as up to 13 weeks of extended benefits. An increasing number of states — including Colorado, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee — have started preparing for phased reopening of shops, restaurants and other businesses, which could push workers off of unemployment.
The jobless claims report comes a day after the Commerce Department reported that the U.S.’s gross domestic product — a measure of the output of goods and services across the economy — contracted at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.8% in the first three months of the year. It marked the steepest decline since the Great Recession. Yesterday afternoon, Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said that the U.S. economy would need additional funding from the White House and Congress amid the health crisis.