May 21, 2020 - Economy & Business

2.4 million Americans filed for unemployment last week

Data: U.S. Employment and Training Administration via FRED; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: U.S. Employment and Training Administration via FRED; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Another 2.43 million workers filed for unemployment benefits last week, the Department of Labor said on Thursday.

Why it matters: Americans are still filing jobless claims at historically high rates as the coronavirus crisis takes a record toll on the economy.

The big picture: The pace of weekly unemployment filings has slowed from the peak, but the number of newly filed claims continues to be devastatingly high.

  • For comparison, the record number of filings before the pandemic was set in 1982, when 695,000 people filed for unemployment.
  • New York state's Labor Department told reporters on Tuesday it has paid out 4.5 years worth of unemployment benefits in just over two months.

By the numbers: Continuing claims, which show the number of Americans collecting unemployment after their initial application, jumped by 2.5 million to another record 25 million — a sign unemployment is lingering even as states reopen.

  • Of note: This figure reports with a 2-week lag.

The backdrop: The federal stimulus bill passed in late March grants an additional $600 in benefits per week to jobless Americans. These more generous benefits are set to stop at the end of July.

  • The bill also created "pandemic unemployment assistance," which extends unemployment benefits to self-employed and gig workers.
  • The main jobless claims figure doesn't count people applying for this program. A separate part of the release shows 2.2 million people across 35 states applied for this program last week.
  • It also excludes jobless Americans whose applications weren't yet processed. Florida is among the states whose unemployment systems are still seeing delays, the Wall Street Journal reported this week.

The bottom line: Economists warn job losses meant to be temporary could become permanent.

  • Businesses starting to reopen may not need the same number of workers as they did pre-pandemic — especially if they're operating at reduced capacity.
  • Plus, the coronavirus economic impact has rippled to other industries that weren't forced to close — including local newspapers and startups — as the country locked down and demand shriveled up.
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