Another 1.5 Million People File for Unemployment Despite Reopenings

The United States labor force is still hemorrhaging hundreds of thousands of jobs.

According to the Department of Labor, another 1.54 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week even as state and local governments continue to ease lockdown restrictions. (Economists had forecasted 1.55 million jobless applications.)

The figure pushes the 12-week total since the coronavirus pandemic swept the country to more than 44 million. Over the course of a little more than a month, the health crisis managed to wipe out all job gains since the Great Recession and brought to a halt the U.S.’s decade-long economic expansion. Although weekly initial claims have decelerated for 10 consecutive weeks, the volume of filings remains more than double the worst week during the Great Recession.

The report also comes on the heels of blowout May employment numbers, which 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. It followed a loss of 2.3 million retail positions in April, when scores of stores, offices and businesses were shuttered throughout the month, forcing many nonessential employers to terminate or furlough their workers.

With all 50 states now having lifted stay-at-home orders, many workers will gradually be expected to return to their posts. 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 health crisis. Plus, ongoing national unrest following the death of George Floyd — an unarmed black man who was killed in police custody on May 25 — has led many retailers and malls to postpone reopenings or cut back on operating hours, reducing the number of workers required back in stores.

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