Another 2.4 million Americans filed new claims for unemployment insurance last week as the U.S. suffers through the highest level of joblessness since the Great Depression, according to data released Thursday by the Labor Department.
Between May 10 and 16, the total number of seasonally adjusted initial applications for jobless benefits totaled 2,438,000, a 249,000-claim decrease from the previous week’s revised total of 22,548,000 claims. The new wave of applications brings the total number of initial unemployment claims since the week ending March 22 to 38.6 million.
The nonseasonally adjusted number of claims in the week ending May 16 totaled 2,174,329, down 182,265 claims from the previous week. Some economists argue that the nonseasonally adjusted figure better reflects the scale of the damage wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.
Thirty-five states also reported 2,226,921 initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an expanded benefits program for workers who lost their jobs because of the coronavirus outbreak but do not qualify for unemployment insurance.
While last week marks the seventh consecutive week of falling unemployment claims since the pandemic derailed the economy, the number of Americans seeking jobless benefits remains far above pre-pandemic records. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 17.2 percent, meaning nearly one-fifth of the U.S. workforce is receiving jobless benefits.
Last week is also the eighth consecutive week that saw at least 2 million Americans file initial unemployment claims since the spread of COVID-19 forced thousands of businesses to lay off workers.
The economy has lost at least 21.4 million jobs since March as the unemployment rate soared to 14.7 percent, according to the Labor Department, and economists expect the damage to continue to climb much higher.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said last week that unemployment could reach 25 percent — its peak during the Great Depression — by the end of June and could take until the end of 2021 to fully recover. The Congressional Budget Office projected unemployment to peak at 15.8 percent next quarter and drop to 11.5 percent at year's end, remaining well above the 10 percent peak during the Great Recession.
Powell and a slew of economists have warned that without further fiscal support, the U.S. economy could suffer long-term damage that prevents the country from a steady and robust recovery from the pandemic. While Democrats have long called for another fiscal stimulus bill, GOP leaders are facing growing pressure from the rank and file, particularly vulnerable Republicans senators facing reelection this year, to come to the table.