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.

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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