A box of unemployment applications.
(Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

1 in 4 American Workers Have Filed for Unemployment Benefits During Pandemic

WASHINGTON — More than 40 million Americans have filed for first-time unemployment benefits since the coronavirus pandemic forced the US economy to shut down in March. One in four American workers has filed for unemployment insurance.

Another 2.1 million people filed initial jobless claims last week, the Department of Labor reported Thursday morning.

It was the tenth-straight week in which claims were in the millions. America had never recorded a single week of 1 million jobless claims prior to the coronavirus crisis.

Weekly claims hit their peak at the end of March and have declined every week since then. Although the peak of the jobless wave has passed, at least for now, the state of the US labor market remains dire. State labor departments across the country continue to struggle to process the millions of claims. Before the pandemic, weekly claims were around 200,000.

In addition to claims for regular unemployment benefits, 1.2 million Americans filed for pandemic unemployment assistance last week. That program allows for out-of-work people who don’t qualify for normal unemployment benefits, such as freelancers, to receive government jobless assistance.

The number of people claiming regular unemployment benefits for consecutive weeks fell to 21.1 million. It was the first decline in continued claims since the start of the pandemic. Economists will keep a close eye on this number in the coming weeks. If it continues to decline, the US labor market could be on the path toward improvement.

Economists, politicians and workers have high hopes that people will be able to return to work as the US economy reopens. But this reopening will be staggered and unsynchronized. Some states will move ahead faster than others, just like some industries will be revived quicker.

Jobs have been lost across the board.

The hospitality industry, which accounted for the bulk of jobs lost in April, is expected to be scarred for the long-term by the pandemic. It could take consumers some time before they are willing to go out to bars and restaurants again.

Unemployment claims don’t equal jobs lost — the two data sets are based on different surveys — but economists expect the unemployment rate to jump again in May. Next week’s jobs report is expected to show an unemployment rate of nearly 20%, up from 14.7% in April.

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