Millions of U.S. Workers Filed for Jobless Benefits Last Week

People in Pearl, Miss., waited Tuesday outside a job center where the lobby is closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Photo: Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

About 4.4 million Americans sought unemployment benefits last week as the coronavirus pandemic continued to hurt the labor market, though the rapid pace of layoffs appeared to be easing.

The millions of Americans who sought unemployment benefits last week continued a historic labor-market decline, bringing the total claims for the past five weeks to more than 26 million, the Labor Department said Thursday. Jobless claims, which are laid-off workers’ applications for unemployment insurance payments, had reached nearly seven million at the end of March as the coronavirus led to widespread business closures.

“There was an immediate wave of layoffs as a result of the crisis,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor. “Even though people may have been laid off weeks ago, we might only be seeing the impact now in the numbers.”

Plans to reopen some nonessential businesses in Georgia face skepticism, Vice President Mike Pence says the coronavirus epidemic could be “largely in the past” by June, and deaths in U.S. nursing homes top 10,000. WSJ’s Jason Bellini has the latest on the pandemic. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters

Forty-three states reported claims declined from a week earlier, though they remained at high levels. While California continued to see the most claims, with 530,000, that marked a 19% decline from the previous week. New claims in New York and Missouri fell 50% versus the week earlier.

A few states that had previously reported smaller filing rates noted sharp rises last week. Initial claims in West Virginia and Connecticut more than tripled. Florida’s volume increased 180% as more than 500,000 workers filed for unemployment.

U.S. stocks wavered Thursday after the data showed weekly unemployment claims had eased slightly. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 39 points, or less than 0.2%, paring gains of more than 400 points earlier in the session. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite ended little changed.

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The U.S. unemployment data came as surveys of purchasing managers showed business activity in the U.S., Europe and Japan collapsed in April during global restrictions on movement and social interaction aimed at limiting the spread of the virus.

The surveys showed drops in services activity that were unprecedented in the history of the reports, even in the wake of the global financial crisis. Manufacturing activity is also contracting, though not quite as severely.

Some economists expect a fresh surge of claims in future weeks as workers who were previously unable to file because of backlogged state systems are counted, and as states begin to accept applications from people who are newly eligible under a $2 trillion stimulus package, such as independent contractors and self-employed individuals.

“These unbelievable numbers are masking a lot of the true demand, and that’s what we’re going to continue to see play out over the next month,” said Maria Flynn, president of Jobs for the Future, a workforce development nonprofit.

Washington state’s claims decreased sharply last week, according to Thursday’s report. But the state said it saw more unemployment-benefits applications on Saturday night through Sunday than during its biggest week on record, as it launched a “massive update” to its computer systems to start processing expanded unemployment benefits. Gig-economy workers, self-employed people and those seeking part-time work were among those newly eligible to apply as the state began implementing a key provision of the law.

Rhode Island also experienced a sharp increase in claims when it began accepting applications included in the expanded unemployment assistance, offering a glimpse at the potential impact of the stimulus bill on claims.

The number of workers receiving unemployment insurance continues to rise as states process applications. In the week that ended April 11, a record 16 million Americans received unemployment payments, up from 12 million the previous week. The data date back to 1967. So-called continuing claims are reported with a one-week lag.

Dennis Fithian, 49 years old, of Detroit, was able to register for unemployment insurance benefits relatively quickly after he was laid off from his job at sports radio station 97.1 The Ticket in early April.

Despite high claims volume in Michigan, Mr. Fithian said his wife was persistent in helping him apply online. “She would get up at 2 or 3 in the morning and keep hitting ‘refresh’ until she was able to get in,” he said.

View from the States

Most states reported fewer new applications for unemployment benefits last week, with a few states noting sharp increases that had previously seen smaller rates.

New jobless claims as a share of total labor force

W.Va.Conn.

Ky.Fla.

Ga.La.

8%

6

4

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

April

HawaiiAlaska

R.I.S.C.

N.J.Pa.

8%

6

4

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

April

Ala.Miss.

Calif.Mich.

Nev.N.H.

8%

6

4

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

April

Minn.N.D.

Wash.Ind.

Okla.Colo.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

April

N.Y.Kan.

Mass.Tenn.

N.C.Ariz.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

April

Mont.Texas

Del.Vt.

Va.Ohio

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

April

Wis.Ark.

Mo.Ore.

MaineIll.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

April

IowaMd.

IdahoN.M.

UtahNeb.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

April

Wyo.S.D.

2%

0

April

April

W.Va.Conn.

Ky.Fla.

Ga.

8%

6

4

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

La.Hawaii

AlaskaR.I.

S.C.

8%

6

4

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

N.J.Pa.

Ala.Miss.

Calif.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

Mich.Nev.

N.H.Minn.

N.D.

8%

6

4

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

Wash.Ind.

Okla.Colo.

N.Y.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

Kan.Mass.

Tenn.N.C.

Ariz.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

Mont.Texas

Del.Vt.

Va.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

OhioWis.

Ark.Mo.

Ore.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

MaineIll.

IowaMd.

Idaho

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

N.M.Utah

Neb.Wyo.

S.D.

2%

0

April

April

April

April

April

W.Va.Conn.Ky.

Fla.Ga.

8%

6

4

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

La.HawaiiAlaska

R.I.S.C.

8%

6

4

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

N.J.Pa.

Ala.Miss.Calif.

6%

4

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

Mich.Nev.N.H.

Minn.N.D.

8%

6

4

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

Wash.Ind.Okla.

Colo.N.Y.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

Kan.Mass.Tenn.

N.C.Ariz.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

Mont.TexasDel.

Vt.Va.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

OhioWis.

Ark.Mo.

Ore.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

MaineIll.

IowaMd.

Idaho

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

April

N.M.UtahNeb.

Wyo.S.D.

2%

0

April

April

April

April

April

W.Va.Conn.Ky.Fla.

6%

4

2

0

April

April

April

April

Ga.La.HawaiiAlaska

8%

6

4

2

0

April

April

April

April

R.I.S.C.N.J.Pa.

8%

6

4

2

0

April

April

April

April

Ala.Miss.Calif.Mich.

8%

6

4

2

0

April

April

April

April

Nev.N.H.Minn.N.D.

6%

4

2

0

April

April

April

April

Wash.Ind.Okla.Colo.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

N.Y.Kan.Mass.Tenn.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

N.C.Ariz.Mont.Texas

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

Del.Vt.Va.Ohio

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

Wis.Ark.Mo.Ore.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

MaineIll.IowaMd.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

IdahoN.M.UtahNeb.

4%

2

0

April

April

April

April

Wyo.S.D.

2%

0

April

April

Note: Latest figures are preliminary. Labor Force size is based on February data

Source: Labor Department

The couple’s biggest immediate concern is losing his health insurance at the end of April—a worry made even more acute by the fact that his 14-year-old daughter suffers from a rare, incurable disease. “I mostly worked for the love of the job. It wasn’t for the great money, so we’ve always budgeted. But just looking at the summer ahead, the health insurance—that’s going to get really pricey,” he said.

The steepest employment losses appeared to occur between mid- and late March, when the economy shed about 13 million jobs, largely in leisure and hospitality, according to Federal Reserve research. By comparison, about 9 million jobs were lost over the course of the 2007-9 recession.

Oxford Economics estimates that the pandemic will result in 27.9 million lost jobs, including between 8 million and 10 million in industries such as manufacturing and construction that most states haven’t ordered to close.

The federal stimulus package was designed to blunt the economic damage from the coronavirus. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said Thursday 44 states were paying recipients an additional $600 a week in enhanced unemployment benefits on top of usual state payments.

More on the Economy

  • Americans Pulled Back From Home Purchases in March April 21, 2020
  • U.S. Jobless Claims Top 20 Million Since Start of Shutdowns April 16, 2020
  • Swaths of U.S. Economy Froze in March April 15, 2020

The extra $600, which is paid in addition to regular unemployment benefits, could lead to a larger weekly paycheck than many lower-wage workers would typically earn. For others, like Joshua Price, of Syracuse, N.Y., it amounts to much less than they were previously making.

Mr. Price, 46, began receiving unemployment benefits in late March after he lost his homebound math teaching job due to government-mandated public school closures.

He gets a total of $1,104 in weekly benefits, including the extra $600 a week, which works out to 56% of his previous income.

Mr. Price normally tries to save $750 a week, but with tax bills and insurance bills, he is now saving very little.

“I don’t believe I should have to go into my savings to pay bills when it’s a government-mandated work stoppage,” Mr. Price said.

Related

  • Fed Focuses on Lending Programs, but Monetary Policy Deliberations Loom
  • U.S. Stocks Extend Gains
  • Mortgage Break Isn’t Boon Many Expected

Write to Sarah Chaney at [email protected]

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