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’No words for this’: 10 million workers file jobless claims in just two weeks

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Rebecca Rainey
Nolan D. McCaskill

Unemployment claims soared to a record-smashing 6.6million last week, the Labor Department reported, more than double the previous week, signaling more economic pain from the coronavirus pandemic.

The rush to claim unemployment benefits occurred as the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus rose above 200,000 and government measures to contain the epidemic shut down increasing swaths of the U.S. economy, with residents in 37 states now ordered to stay at home.

The total job losses in just two weeks — almost 10 million Americans — amounts to a staggering, sudden blow to American workers never seen before in the U.S. economy. The labor market in the coming weeks could blow past the 15 million jobs lost at the peak of the 18-month Great Recession from 2007 to 2009.

President Donald Trump, who built his record for the past three years in office around economic growth and job growth, has now seen gains from much of the past decade evaporate in a matter of weeks. An official U.S. jobless rate that sat at 3.5% in February is poised to top 10% in April alone, eclipsing the peak of the last recession.

“In one line: No words for this,” Pantheon Macroeconomics Chief Economist Ian Shepherdson wrote in reaction to the numbers.

“What we are going through now dwarfs anything we’ve ever seen, including the worst weeks of the great recession,” tweeted Heidi Shierholz, chief economist at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “I have spent the last twenty years studying the labor market and have never seen anything like it.”

The new figure, which represents unemployment claims filed the week that ended March 28, marks the largest number of weekly claims ever recorded since the government began collecting such data in 1967. The second-highest number of claims were the 3.3 million filed the week before, and the third-highest about 700,000 claims filed one week in 1982.

The new unemployment claims figure was seasonally adjusted, but the raw numerical increase was still a record-breaking 5.8 million claims.

In a prepared statement, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said, “The administration continues to act quickly to address this impact on American workers.” He then pointed to the recent coronavirus relief package approved by Congress and a final rule issued by the Department of Labor Wednesday enacting temporary paid leave requirements for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Covered employers must give workers who are quarantined or experiencing coronavirus symptoms two weeks paid sick leave, and an additional ten weeks leave to workers who are caring for children stuck at home.

Reports from state unemployment offices, which are still struggling to meet the high volume of requests for unemployment benefits, continue to suggest DOL’s weekly claims figure significantly understates the real number of Americans seeking help.

“We’re hoping today’s reading will be the peak, but we can’t be sure,” Shepherdson of Pantheon wrote in an email. “In any event, total layoffs between the March and April payroll surveys look destined to reach perhaps 16-to-20 [million], consistent with the unemployment rate leaping to 13-to-16 [percent].”

Additionally, the number doesn’t capture self-employed workers, who are not eligible for state unemployment benefits. But under a new temporary program that was signed into law one day before the reporting period ended, gig workers will be eligible to apply to state unemployment offices for up to 39 weeks unemployment benefits that will be funded entirely by the federal government. States are awaiting guidance from DOL on how to put this new program into effect.

Also left out of the count are people who left the workforce voluntarily for any reason — including to care for a sick family member, a child home from school, or because they are sick, themselves, from Covid-19, the illness caused by the unique coronavirus.

The Congressional Budget Office released an updated economic forecast on Thursday that suggests the effects of mass joblessness and business closures will sting for some time, with an unemployment rate as high as 9 percent by the end of 2021.

In the nearterm, the CBO projected that the jobless rate will blow past 10 percent in the second quarter of this year, with GDP expected to fall by 7 percent over the next three months.

Director Phillip Swagel cautioned that CBO’s estimates are “very preliminary“ and “based on information about the economy that was available through this morning,” warning the numbers are subject to change and even worsen. The projections assume that social distancing continues across the country for an average of three months and that later outbreaks of the virus are possible, he said.

The increase in claims remained concentrated in the services industries, according to DOL, particularly accommodation and food services. States also reported increases in claims from workers in thehealth care, manufacturing, retail and construction industries.

The greatest number of new unemployment claims were in California, which processed an estimated 878,727 claims last week. That figure is up from 186,333 in the previous week and more than 21 times the typical volume the department handled before the pandemic.

California’s employment agency, which is handling the onslaught of claims, has said it has not experienced delays, but Twitter is awash with complaints from workers about overloaded phone lines, difficulties filing online and confusion about how to apply for federal CARES Act relief as independent contractors.

To speed up the approval process, the department has added hundreds of employees to process claims. It has also relaxed its initial verification requirements at the direction of the state’s labor secretary, allowing the checks to go out more quickly.

After California, Pennsylvania was next with 405,880 new claims.

New York, which leads the country in confirmed coronavirus cases, reported 366,403 new claims last week. That figure, however, is likely a massive undercount. The official tally is almost certainly missing vast numbers of New Yorkers who have been frantically attempting to file claims with the state’s outdated website and telephone lines to no avail.

In addition to the anecdotal evidence of dropped calls and online applications interrupted by crashes, the DOL report sheds some more light onto just how few residents are getting through: New York state had to revise its jobless claim numbers from earlier in the month upward by nearly 85 percent.

“Today’s jobless report shows the grim reality of the coronavirus’ crippling effect on our economy and working families,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “The Department of Labor must move heaven and earth to — as quickly as possible — get the expanded unemployment benefits Congress passed last week into the pockets of workers who have lost their paychecks through no fault of their own. America’s workers and families cannot afford a delay.”

New Jersey, which has recorded 22,255 positive cases of Covid-19 since early last month, reported 205,515 unemployment claims.

Illinois has been taking steps to update and streamline unemployment claims. The state received more than 114,000 claims last week.

Over the past few weeks, the Illinois Department of Employment Security website has been moved to a new hardware infrastructure to handle the increased demand. Web, storage and processing capacity has also been improved to meet the increased needs, according to the governor’s office. The state says call center capacity has been increased and daily call center hours have been extended.

Florida will start accepting paper applications for unemployment benefits as a result of ongoing crashes and failures with its online system, Ken Lawson, the head of the state agency that processes claims, said Thursday.

Florida’s online system, CONNECT, went offline for hours Wednesday as the state dealt with an unprecedented surge of jobless claims. Florida had more than 222,000 claims last week.

Lawson, director of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity, announced the move at a town hall meeting with two Democratic legislators. He also apologized for the ongoing problems. The beginning of the town hall was disrupted by hackers and others who cursed at Lawson and the legislators.

The “next week or two” is going to be difficult, Lawson said.

Katy Murphy, Caitlin Emma, Shia Kapos, Joe Anuta,Gary Fineout and Katherine Landergan contributed to this report.

This article was originally published at Politico on April 2, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.

Prior to joining POLITICO in August 2018, Rainey covered the Occupational Safety and Health administration and regulatory reform on Capitol Hill. Her work has been published by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, among other outlets.

Rainey holds a bachelor’s degree from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.

She was born and raised on the eastern shore of Maryland and grew up 30 minutes from the beach. She loves to camp, hike and be by the water whenever she can.

About the Author: Nolan D. McCaskill is a national political reporter covering the 2020 presidential race.

He previously covered Congress and authored the Huddle newsletter at POLITICO, where he started as an inaugural member of POLITICO’s Journalism Institute in 2014 before accepting a yearlong fellowship through 2015, later becoming a breaking news reporter and briefly covering the White House.

Nolan is a December 2014 graduate of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. He was editor-in-chief of his college newspaper, The Famuan, and a former producer for his university’s live television newscasts.

Nolan is PJI’s inaugural Emerging Communicator and a 2017-18 National Press Foundation Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow.


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Economy Gains 75,000 Jobs in May; Unemployment Steady at 3.6%

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The U.S. economy gained 75,000 jobs in May, and the unemployment rate remained at 3.6%, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wage growth of 3.1% was lower than last month’s 3.4% and, a downward revision of 75,000 for the job numbers for March and April signals that the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee needs to inch down interest rates.

In response to the May job numbers, AFL-CIO Chief Economist William Spriggs tweeted:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View image on Twitter

Last month’s biggest job gains were in professional and business services (33,000), health care (16,000) and construction (4,000). Employment in other major industries, including mining, manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and government, showed little change over the month.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates fell for blacks (6.2%). The unemployment rates for teenagers (12.7%), Hispanics (4.2%), adult men (3.3%), whites (3.3%), adult women (3.2%) and Asians (2.5%) showed little or no change in May.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed in May and accounted for 22.4% of the unemployed.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on June 7, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.


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Millions Face Bleak Winter When Jobless Aid Ends Nov. 30

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Image: Mike HallMore than 1 million long-term unemployed workers a  month will lose their unemployment benefits—the weekly check that helps keep a roof over their families’ heads and food on the table—if Congress doesn’t act by Nov. 30.

That’s the date the extended unemployment insurance (UI) benefits program expires. But Congress does not return to work until Nov. 15 and then will adjourn again for the Thanksgiving holiday, leaving just a few days when lawmakers are in town to extend the lifeline that has been so vital as unemployment continues to hover near 10 percent.

Click here to sign a petition to Congress to act quickly and extend the UI program before it expires Nov. 30.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), says that in 2009 alone, UI benefits have kept 3.3 million American families— including 1.5 million children— from falling into poverty.

With the holiday season approaching, it would be especially cruel to families and bad for businesses to cut off these benefits. Any cuts would also be a drastic departure from how unemployment insurance has functioned ever since the Great Depression; Congress has never cut back on federally-funded jobless benefits when unemployment is so high.

NELP in recent days launched an online campaign—UnemployedWorkers.org—as resource to mobilize support and push Congress to act before the Nov. 30 deadline. That will be a big lift because for the past two years, Republicans have tried to block every extension of the extended UI program.  Says Owens:

Congress took seven weeks to reauthorize the extensions when benefits expired last June, and in that time, more than 2 million unemployed Americans and their families lost their jobless benefits.

Some Republicans and radio blowhards (see video) have even claimed unemployment insurance benefits—an average of just a little more than $300 a week—make jobless workers so comfortable, they won’t go out and look for work. Not that there’s much out there. Owens calls the claims “insulting and infuriating.”

In the video, Christopher J., a marketing professional out of work for more than a year, says:

There’s no such thing as pickiness when you don’t have a job. I have tried every job. I will go and apply for a maintenance position.  I have done that maintenance position when I was in college.

UnemployedWorkers.org features:

  • Fact sheets on the jobs crisis and the role of unemployment insurance in rebuilding the economy.
  • Weekly tracking of jobless claims data, national and regional unemployment news and other items related to the recovery.
  • Online actions, including a petition to Congress, call-ins and letter-writing to elected officials.
  • Workers’ stories, in blog posts and videos, and a forum for workers to contribute their own.
  • Real-time feeds on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
  • Expert advice for unemployed workers about jobless benefits.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About The Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.


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