The coronavirus crisis has put more than 40 million Americans out of work, according to new federal data showing another 2.1 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week.
The workers sidelined by the pandemic in the past 10 weeks now outnumber the entire population of California and account for roughly 26 percent of the American workforce.
Thursday’s seasonally adjusted figures from the US Department of Labor showed the pace of initial jobless claims continuing their steady decline since late March. But the economy still has a long road to recovery from these staggering losses, according to experts.
“Although initial claims are declining, the pace may only be plateauing,” said Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao. “If claims remain in the millions for the next few weeks, it may signal that relaxed state-mandated restrictions alone aren’t enough to staunch the flow of unemployed Americans.”
The results were in line with economists’ expectations for 2.1 million claims, down from the previous week’s revised total of 2.4 million.
The number of people filing continuing claims for benefits also fell for the first time since the pandemic began to gut the labor market, a positive sign as states eased restrictions aimed at curbing the virus. There were about 21 million in the week ending May 16, down from a record 24.9 million the prior week, the feds said.
But that shouldn’t get anyone’s hopes up given how muddy and volatile the weekly data have been, said Yelena Shulyatyeva, senior US economist at Bloomberg Economics. The declines must continue for a few more weeks to show the labor market is actually “on the mend,” she said.
“This report is a great first signal that things might be stabilizing, but I’m afraid that things will get worse before they get better,” Shulyatyeva told The Post.
The still-high numbers suggest the pandemic has sparked a second wave of layoffs hitting managers and supervisors as well as companies that relied on shut-down businesses, according to Shulyatyeva.
This week’s report also showed continued job losses among gig workers and others seeking Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the special federal benefit for people not traditionally eligible for unemployment insurance.
The number of new applications for the program fell slightly to just shy of 1.2 million last week, the feds said, citing reports from 32 states. But nearly 7.8 million people filed continued claims in the week ending May 9, up from about 6.1 million the prior week. Those figures are not seasonally adjusted.
Standard jobless claims fell last week in New York, where officials have pushed through a massive backlog amid the pandemic. The state recorded 192,193 initial filings last week, down from 223,962 the week before, according to the feds.
Experts say recent data indicate the nation’s unemployment rate could approach or break 20 percent in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ closely watched jobs report for May, which will be released next Friday. That would mark an increase from the record 14.7 percent unemployment seen in April, when the economy shed 20.5 million jobs as the pandemic pushed it into a deep freeze.
With Post wires
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