Pandemic-Induced Layoffs Approach 50 Million as Some States Pause Reopening Plans

Although jobless claims have begun to level off week to week, the number of Americans who were put out of work since the coronavirus pandemic swept the United States is steadily approaching 50 million.

On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that 1.31 million people applied for unemployment benefits during the week ending July 4 — a drop of 99,000 from the prior week’s revised level. Economists had forecasted a 1.39 million increase.

The data also showed that the number of continuing claims — which paints a broader picture of joblessness in the country and lags jobless data by one week — declined 698,000 to 18.06 million. (The previous week’s total was revised down by 530,000.) Wall Street had predicted a 18.9 million such claims.

However, some states and cities — including Texas, California and Arizona — have reversed or hit pause on their reopening plans due to a recent spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases, which have surpassed 3.05 million in the U.S. and led to at least 132,300 deaths.

Renewed lockdowns could pose a significant threat to the country’s economic recovery. Over the past couple months, industries across the board — particularly the retail sector — have been hit hard by the outbreak. Many nonessential employers moved to terminate or furlough their workers to preserve cash and keep their businesses afloat.

The past two months’ jobs reports signaled that a turnaround could be on the horizon: For the month of June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that American employers gained 4.8 million jobs, while the unemployment rate fell to 11.1%. (Economists had forecasted an addition of 2.9 million nonfarm payrolls and a jobless rate of 12.4%.) It followed an unexpectedly upbeat May’s jobs report, which showed the largest single-month employment surge in U.S. history since at least 1939.

As other states and localities loosen their stay-at-home orders, many workers are gradually expected to return to their posts. Experts, however, have pointed out that it likely will take years for the economy to recover from the tens of millions of jobs lost during the health crisis.

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