New U.S. labor market data released on Thursday revealed another massive increase in jobless claims for the week ended April 18. From April 12-18, 4.43 million Americans newly applied for unemployment benefits, bringing the total for the last five weeks to a whopping 26,453,000. While last week’s number marks a 810,000 decline from the previous week’s revised level, it’s hard to speak of an improvement given the severity of the situation. In historic context, the latest numbers are still off the charts, illustrating the devastating effect the coronavirus has had on the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), previous peaks had occurred in the fall of 1982 and in March 2009, when initial claims had reached 695,000 and 665,000, respectively.
The rapid (albeit expected) rise in unemployment was driven by the measures taken to contain the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States, which have led to widespread closures of bars, restaurants and movie theaters as well as halting most travel, shocking the transport and hospitality industries to the core. “Today’s unemployment report shows continued, elevated unemployment claims caused by the coronavirus pandemic,” Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia said in his official statement on yesterday’s report, while pledging that the DOL would be “continuing to provide guidance and support to the States as they implement the enhanced unemployment benefits under the CARES Act.”
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