Coronavirus: US unemployment hits record high after 22m file jobless claims in a month

Jobless claims continue to soar as pandemic causes businesses to shutter and shed employees

Chris Riotta
New York
Thursday 16 April 2020 14:46 BST
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Nearly 5.2 million more people living in the United States filed for unemployment benefits last week as the coronavirus pandemic continued to cause an economic downturn featuring the largest loss of jobs in American history.

Roughly 22 million applicants have filed for unemployment since the beginning of the pandemic.

All businesses deemed nonessential have been closed in nearly every state as the economy has virtually shut down, and deep job losses have been inflicted across nearly every industry.

Some economists say the unemployment rate could reach as high as 20 per cent in April, which would be the highest rate since the Great Depression of the 1930s. By comparison, unemployment never topped 10 per cent during the Great Recession.

Layoffs are spreading beyond service industries like hotels, bars and restaurants, which absorbed the brunt of the initial job cuts, into white collar professional occupations, including software programmers, construction workers and sales people.

Collectively, the job cuts could produce unemployment on an epic scale. Up to 50 million jobs are vulnerable to coronavirus-related layoffs, economists say — about one-third of all positions in the United States. That figure is based on a calculation of jobs that are deemed non-essential by state and federal governments and that cannot be done from home.

It's unlikely that all those workers will be laid off or file for unemployment benefits. But it suggests the extraordinary magnitude of unemployment that could result from the pandemic.

Retailers and other service companies keep cutting jobs. The electronics chain Best Buy said this week that it will furlough 51,000 of its hourly employees, including nearly all its part-time workers. Royal Caribbean Cruises will cut one-quarter of its 5,000 corporate employees.

But now, job losses are spreading well beyond occupations involving restaurants, retail, travel and entertainment, which were hit first and hardest. The software company Toast, which works with the restaurant industry, last week cut half its workforce - or 1,300 people - citing a dizzying drop in restaurant sales. Yelp, the customer review site, cut 1,000 jobs. Groupon, the online discount company, shed 2,800.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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