In the fastest surge of layoffs and economic decline in U.S. history, 16.8 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits in the past three weeks, the government reported Thursday.
A total of 6.61 million people filed jobless claims in the week that ended Saturday, according to Labor Department figures released Thursday, as more states ordered residents to stay home and overwhelmed unemployment offices continue to work through applications.
Economists said the tidal wave of layoffs, triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, suggests the U.S. unemployment rate in April will be 15% or even higher.
The claims filed in the past three weeks are “a mind-boggling 2,500% increase over the pre-virus period,” economists at the Economic Policy Institute said.
“For a benchmark, this is as if the entire adult population of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin applied for unemployment insurance in the last three weeks.”
The figures collectively constitute the largest and fastest string of job losses in records dating to 1948. By contrast, during the 2008-2009 recession it took 44 weeks — roughly 10 months — for unemployment claims to go as high as they now have in less than a month.
In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson anticipates joblessness claims filed in the state since mid-March to reach 150,000 by this weekend. On Wednesday, he said 110,000 jobless claims had been filed in Arkansas during that time period.
The federal numbers lag behind state numbers by a week.
The federal numbers for Arkansas showed 60,992 new jobless claims for the week ending April 4. That compares with state data of 27,756 for the week ending March 28 and 16,148 new claims filed for the week ending March 21.
FORECAST FOR STATE
Michael Pakko, chief economist at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, on Wednesday updated his forecast for the state’s economy, taking into account various elements of Congress’ coronavirus aid package.
“Job losses are concentrated in service-providing sectors that are considered especially impacted by ‘social distancing,”‘ Pakko wrote, citing the retail and hospitality sectors. “However, the new forecast shows declines across the entire economy. Even health care & social assistance is now expected to see job losses by the end of the year.”
Pakko projected consumer spending to be down by more than 9% in the year’s second quarter, coupled with a decline in income that will be softened somewhat by Congress’ financial aid package.
The damage to job markets is extending around the world. The equivalent of 195 million full-time jobs could be lost in the second quarter to business shutdowns caused by the viral outbreak, according to the United Nations’ labor organization. It estimates that global unemployment will rise by 25 million this year. And that doesn’t even count workers on reduced hours and pay. Lockdown measures are affecting nearly 2.7 billion workers — about 81% of the global workforce — the agency said.
Around half a billion people could sink into poverty as a result of the economic fallout from the coronavirus unless richer countries act to help developing nations, Oxfam, a leading aid organization, warned Thursday.
In the United States, the job market is quickly unraveling as businesses have shut down across the country. The surge of jobless claims has overwhelmed state unemployment offices around the country. And still more job cuts are expected.
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