Jun 4, 2020 - Economy

1.9 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 1.9 million people filed for unemployment last week, the Department of Labor said on Thursday.

The big picture: The coronavirus pandemic is still putting a historic strain on the labor market, though the pace of unemployment applications continues to slow.

  • The number of jobless applications has steadily declined after peaking at 6.9 million in late March.
  • For comparison, the record number of filings before the pandemic was set in 1982, when 695,000 people filed for unemployment.
  • Without taking seasonal factors into account, 1.6 million Americans applied for unemployment last week.

Worth noting: Not included in the headline figures are the people who filed for unemployment under a new program created by the CARES Act that extends benefits to gig and self-employed workers.

  • A total of 623,000 people across 36 states applied for that program last week.

By the numbers: Continued claims, which show how many Americans are still receiving unemployment benefits after initially applying, edged higher to 21.5 million. This figure reports with a 2-week lag.

  • Meanwhile, another 10.7 million are continuing to receive benefits under the gig worker program as of May 16 (the latest data available), roughly 3 million more than the week before that.
  • Economists are watching for consistent drops in continued claims, which would suggest a strong flow of Americans are going back to work.

Between the lines: State labor departments across the country have been overwhelmed by the never-before-seen wave of unemployment filings.

  • Bloomberg reported this week that almost one-third of unemployment benefits that were supposed to be paid out to workers hadn't arrived yet.

What's next: The May jobs report — out Friday morning — will give a better picture of how many workers were out of a job last month.

  • The unemployment rate is estimated to spike to 19.8%.

The bottom line: A historically high number of Americans are still applying for jobless aid, at the same time that nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality continue to mount following George Floyd's death.

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