Coronavirus: 4.4 million filed for unemployment benefits in US last week

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Another 4.4 million US citizens have filed for unemployment benefits last week as companies remained closed amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

The US Department of Labor reported that an additional 4.4 million people sought financial relief by filing for unemployment benefits in the US in the week ending April 18 due to businesses being shut down because of the coronavirus crisis.

According to the labor department, the figure factored in seasonal adjustments but without those adjustments, the raw number was still 4.3 million.

A surge in jobless claims

The surge in the number of submissions in the last five weeks was the highest since the department began tracking the data in 1967. The seasonally adjusted numbers recorded a total of 26.5 million initial claims filed since March 14.

Over the past three weeks, the number of claims have declined from a peak of 6.9 million in the last week of March but the filings continue to be in the millions. This was very remote from the pre-pandemic weekly claims which was around the low 200,000s.

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Heidi Shierholz, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, mentioned that the recent weekly claims have been more than 20 times the pre-coronavirus level, and over five times of the worst five-week stretch during the 2007-2009 financial crisis

The number of filings will not necessarily translate to benefits being paid as some will be disqualified because workers did not meet eligibility requirements.

However, the data demonstrates how almost 16.2% of the US labor force has suffered from layoffs, furloughs or reduced hours during the coronavirus pandemic.

Paul Ashworth, chief US economist at Capital Economics, argued that while the weekly claims filings have been declining, much of the damage is already done. According to Department of Labor, the seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was at 11% in the week ending April 11, the highest level recorded in the series.

In the week ended April 11, continued jobless claims was almost 16 million after seasonal adjustments, up from 11.9 million in the previous week. These are workers who filed for their second week of benefits or more.

Keeping up with the claims

State governments are finding it challenging to process the unexpectedly large number of unemployment claims.

Hawaii, whose economy relies heavily on tourism, has seen first time jobless claims filed by almost 26% of its March labor force over the past five weeks while in Kentucky and Michigan, around 24% of workers have filed for initial claims.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo claimed in a recent interview that they had to assign 1,000 people “just to take the incoming unemployment calls. That’s how high the volume is. And they still can’t keep up.”

On the other hand, in Florida, the state unemployment agency said that it had only paid 14% of the claims filed since March 15, which places it among the slowest in the country in terms of processing the benefit claims.

It was noted that more than 25% of the submissions were rejected because the workers were found ineligible for the regular jobless benefits program. However, some of them may still qualify under a new pandemic unemployment assistance program created in the $2 trillion stimulus package in March.

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