US Layoffs Climb to 41 Million, Despite Business Reopenings
WASHINGTON (AP) — An estimated 2.1 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week despite the gradual reopening of businesses around the country, bringing the running total since the coronavirus shutdowns took hold in mid-March to about 41 million, the government said Thursday.
The figures underscored the continuing damage to businesses and livelihoods from the outbreak that has now killed at least 100,000 people in the U.S., more than the number of Americans lost in the Vietnam and Korean wars combined, and more than 33 times the death toll on 9/11.
The U.S. unemployment rate was 14.7% in April, the highest since the Depression, and many economists expect it will near 20% in May.
First-time applications for unemployment, though still extraordinarily high, have fallen for eight straight weeks, and states are gradually letting stores, restaurants, salons, gyms, and other businesses reopen. But other employers are still laying off workers in the face of a deep recession.
The Labor Department report included a positive sign: The number of people now receiving benefits fell for the first time since the outbreak intensified in mid-March, from 25 million to 21 million. That suggests companies are starting to rehire and could mean that total job losses will peak in May.
Still, economists say many of the jobs lost are never coming back, and double-digit unemployment could persist through 2021.
As bad as the numbers are, the real picture may be worse. The government counts people as unemployed only if they’re actually looking for a job, and many probably see no point in doing that when so many businesses are shut down.
The figures come amid an intensifying debate in Congress over whether to extend $600 in extra weekly federal unemployment benefits, which were provided under rescue legislation passed in March but are set to expire July 31.