Another 3.8 million people lost their jobs in the US last week as the coronavirus pandemic continued to batter the economy. The pace of layoffs appears to be slowing, but in just six weeks an unprecedented 30 million Americans have now sought unemployment benefits and the numbers are still growing.
The latest figures from the labor department released on Thursday showed a fourth consecutive week of declining claims. While the trend is encouraging, the rate of losses means US unemployment is still on course to reach levels unseen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The figures are also still undercounting the number of people out of work. Some states are still dealing with backlogs of claims after their systems were overwhelmed by the massive volume of applications.
Florida has become a notable black spot. As of Tuesday the state had received more than 1.9 million claims and processed just over 664,000, one of the slowest rates in the nation.
Kia Washington, 22, lost her job at Scarlett’s, a club in Fort Myers, on 16 March. She has yet to receive unemployment benefits or the $1,200 stimulus cheque she is entitled to from the federal bailout.
Washington said every time she has tried to file her claim online she has been kicked out of the system, and that she had been trying at 4am or later in the hope of getting through but to no avail. She sent in a paper application three weeks ago but has yet to have a reply.
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She is currently living with her grandparents. “If I didn’t have them, I would be out on the streets,” she said.
The pace of layoffs may slow further as states begin to open up for business once more. But some have warned that relaxing quarantine rules could trigger another wave of infections and shutdowns and the virus has already done significant damage to the economy.
Many large US companies have announced cuts to staff or are planning layoffs. Boeing announced this week that the coronavirus had delivered “a body blow” to its business and is weighing laying off 16,000 people, a 10% cut to its 161,000 workforce. Hertz, the car rental company, recently laid off about 10,000 employees in North America and is reportedly considering bankruptcy.
On Tuesday the commerce department announced the US economy shrank 4.8% in the first three months of the year, its steepest decline since the last recession and ending a decade of near constant economic growth.
Kevin Hassett, senior economic adviser to president Donald Trump has warned that the jobless rate in the US could spike to between 16% and 20% by June.
According to the latest Department of Labor figures, the insured unemployment rate – the number of people currently receiving unemployment insurance as a percentage of the labor force, was 12.4% for the week ending 18 April , the highest percentage recorded since the department started releasing those figures.
Next Friday the bureau of labor statistics releases its official jobs report for themonth of April. The monthly report is regarded as a more accurate snapshot of the jobs market but often lags the weekly report.
In March the jobless rate rose 0.9%, the largest single-month change since January 1975, to 4.4%. The pandemic shutdowns started in late March, so April will give a more accurate picture of their impact on the jobs market. JP Morgan is predicting unemployment could reach 20%.
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