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Five Weeks Into Pandemic, US Unemployment Exceeds 26 Million

Jobless claim filings have continued their unprecedented pace amid the coronavirus pandemic, with roughly 4.4 million people in the United States seeking unemployment insurance last week alone.

The Labor Department reported a staggering 22 million jobless claims over the course of the month ended April 11. Last week’s figure has pushed the five-week total of coronavirus-caused job losses to 26 million, wiping out all of the job gains made since the Great Recession.

Economists had predicted 4.5 million jobless claims for the week ended April 18 — lower than the 5.2 million filed the prior week and less than late March’s all-time high of 6.9 million applications. Prior to the widespread lockdowns instituted in mid-March, claims hovered at just over 200,000 each week.

In the first monthly jobs report since the crisis swept the country, the Bureau of Labor Statistics in early 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%.

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Footwear and apparel retailers have been particularly hard hit. The retail sector lost 46,000 jobs, as department stores, fashion brands and specialty retailers temporarily shuttered their doors across the country. A growing list of industry players that paid their workers during an initial two-week closure have since announced furloughs, layoffs and/or pay cuts for members of their executive and senior leadership teams.

Most of the data used in the jobs report was collected in the first half of March, just before the states and localities across the country imposed broad shutdowns and stay-at-home orders to help stem the spread of COVID-19, which has sickened more than 842,600 people in the U.S. and led to at least 46,700 deaths.

Last month, President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion economic stimulus package promising unemployment pay and benefits for millions of Americans — including furloughed workers, freelancers as well as self-employed and gig workers, such as Uber drivers and Airbnb hosts. The measure ensures that jobless workers will receive weekly pay of $600 for four months on top of state benefits, as well as up to 13 weeks of extended benefits.

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