US weekly jobless claims are 1.9 million as coronavirus layoffs persist

  • US jobless claims for the week that ended on Saturday totaled 1.9 million, the Labor Department said Thursday. That slightly exceeded the median economist estimate.
  • That brought the 11-week total to nearly 43 million. But Thursday’s report also marked the ninth straight week of declining claims.
  • That ultimately means that more than one in four American workers is currently out of a job. 
  • Continuing claims, which represent the aggregate total of people actually receiving unemployment benefits, were 21.5 million for the week.
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Millions of Americans filed for unemployment insurance benefits last week as the coronavirus pandemic continued to force layoffs nationwide.

US jobless claims totaled 1.9 million for the week that ended on Saturday, the Labor Department said Thursday. That slightly exceeded the median economist estimate of 1.8 million unemployment filings.

The figure raised the 11-week total to 42.6 million, meaning more than one in four American workers is out of a job. It’s also more than the roughly 37 million people who filed unemployment-insurance claims during the year and a half of the Great Recession.

Still, unemployment filings last week fell from more than 2.1 million in the previous week. The number of new filings has now declined for nine straight weeks.

initial claims wide 5 30 20

Andy Kiersz / Business Insider

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Continuing claims, which represent the aggregate total of people actually receiving unemployment benefits, were 21.5 million for the week ending May 23, suggesting a slow labor-market recovery, despite signs of economic reopening. Still, it was down from the record of 25 million set two weeks prior.

In addition, there were 623,073 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which expanded benefits to those not previously eligible, over 36 states in the week ending May 30.

At this point — nearly three months into the crisis — still seeing initial claims in the millions and heralding the data as a sign of improvement “is a real gut check, and head check, of what’s happening right now,” Nick Bunker, an economist at Indeed, told Business Insider. 

It’s unclear if jobless claims will ever see a sharp dropoff mirroring how quickly they spiked when the US economy went into lockdown to control coronavirus in mid-March.

Now, after all 50 states have relaxed at least some of their restrictions on the way to reopening, the filing of millions of claims each week suggests to some that a recovery might not yet be underway. 

“Perhaps layoffs are now happening away from the front-line customer facing jobs hammered in March and April, and are reaching into supply chains and services firms,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a Thursday note. 

He added that managerial positions may now be in jeopardy as well, if companies are experiencing a drop in demand. As many as 6 million white-collar workers’ jobs may now be on the line in a second wave of COVID-19 layoffs, Bloomberg reported.

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In addition, it’s still likely that there are massive backlogs of claims as state systems are overwhelmed by the number of people filing each week. There have also been delays in payments reaching workers. One recent analysis showed that about one-third of unemployment benefits — including the additional $600 from the CARES Act — that were promised to Americans have not been paid. 

On Friday, the US Labor Department will release the May jobs report, which will provide further data breaking down the employment situation in the US. 

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expect that the US lost 8 million jobs in May, less than April’s record 20.5 million drop, but that the unemployment rate will have spiked to nearly 20%, the highest since 1948. The estimates hinge on the more than 12 million unemployment claims filed since the April report. 

But the report might not be so dire, as initial claims tell only who has been laid off, not who has been hired — half the story. On Wednesday, the ADP employment report showed that US private payrolls fell by only 2.76 million in May, much less than the 9 million expected. This could signal that re-hiring picked up in May as some states began to reopen, and could mean that Friday’s report is better than expected. 

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