Jobless Claims Top 40 Million, but There’s a Glimmer of Hope

Michael Rainey

More than 2.1 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, the Department of Labor announced Thursday, bringing the total for coronavirus-related jobless claims to more than 40 million over the last 10 weeks – a staggering toll without precedent in American history.

The initial claims numbers continued to decline on a week-over-week basis, though, as the pace of layoffs slows. And for the first time since the crisis began, continuing jobless claims – from those already on the jobless rolls – moved lower, falling to 21.1 million for the week ended May 16 (the continuing claims data is delayed by a week). That suggests that nearly 4 million people have left the unemployment system.

“The data still point to a pretty significant loss of jobs but at least the numbers are moving in the right direction,” Aneta Markowska, chief financial economist at Jefferies Group, told Bloomberg News. “Even though initial claims are still very elevated, the fact that continuing claims are declining means businesses are actually bringing a lot of workers back in and that is more than offsetting the new filings.”

Still, the unemployment rate is at levels not seen since the Great Depression, and economists expect the pain to linger for months, if not years. While employers appear to be bringing some employees back as parts of the economy reopen, the competition for jobs – especially safe ones that can be done remotely – is fierce. “Those who aspire to return to the workforce, seeking new positions amid a battered economy, are likely to find their options limited and less than ideal,” The Washington Post’s Tony Romm said Thursday. “Already, some economists said they had noticed a growing reluctance on the part of workers to apply for positions where face-to-face interaction is required -- and working at home might be difficult or impossible.”

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