Pandemic Continues to Stifle Economy as 4.4 Million More Seek Jobless Aid

April 23, 2020 by Dan McCue
A masked worker at this state WIN job center in Pearl, Miss., holds an unemployment benefit application form as she waits for a client, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

WASHINGTON – Just over 4.4 million more Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week as the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to tame it continue to batter the U.S. economy.

The Labor Department said Thursday that 4,427,000 Americans applied for benefits between April 12 and 18, bringing to the total number of people who have lost jobs since the pandemic took hold in mid-March to about 26 million.

Though the rate of filing claims actually dipped last week — the daunting numbers are likely to continue to stir debate over when and how to lift stay-at-home orders and business closures and get the nation back to work.

Overall, last week’s initial claims for unemployment insurance were down 8,000 from a revised total of 5,237,000 claims filed the previous week.

The painful economic consequences of the virus-related shutdowns have sparked angry protests in several state capitals from crowds demanding that businesses reopen.

Just about every major industry has absorbed sudden and severe layoffs. Economists at the Federal Reserve estimate that hotels and restaurants have shed the most jobs — 4 million since Feb. 15. That is nearly one-third of all the employees in that industry.

Construction has shed more than 9% of its jobs. So has a category that includes retail, shipping and utilities, the Fed estimated. A category that is made up of data processing and online publishing has cut 4.7%.

Some governors have begun easing restrictions despite warnings from health authorities that it may be too soon to do so without sparking new infections.

The total number of people who are receiving unemployment benefits has reached a record 16 million, surpassing a previous high of 12 million set in 2010, just after the 2008-2009 recession ended.

In some states, many laid-off workers have run into obstacles in trying to file applications for benefits. Among them are millions of freelancers, contractors, gig workers and self-employed people — a category of workers who are now eligible for unemployment benefits for the first time.

When the government issues the April jobs report on May 8, economists expect it to show breathtaking losses. Economists at JP Morgan are predicting a loss of 25 million jobs. That would be nearly triple the total lost during the entire Great Recession period.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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