US unemployment rises another 3m, bringing total to 33m since pandemic began

Another three million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week as the coronavirus pandemic continued to extract its terrible toll on the US jobs market.

Some 33 million jobless Americans have now made claims in the past seven weeks.

The latest figures from the US labor department come ahead of the first official monthly report on the American jobs market since the pandemic triggered lockdowns across the country. In March, the official unemployment rate in the US was 4.4%, close to a 50-year low, but economists predict it could now be as high as 20%, a level unseen since the 1930s Great Depression.

The pace of layoffs has overwhelmed state unemployment systems across the country. Over a million people in North Carolina have now made unemployment insurance benefit claims, equivalent to 20% of the state’s workforce. Some four million have applied in California and the state’s jobless benefits fund is “very close” to running out, governor Gavin Newsom said this week.

In Nashville, Tennessee, where the unemployment compensation trust fund is also close to exhaustion, Brenda Waybrant said she was still waiting on unemployment insurance to come in, even though she filed her application on 28 March. Waybrant was laid off mid-March from her job waiting tables at an event venue in downtown Nashville.

Without payments, Waybrant has had to put off paying her rent and car payments, and uses a credit card to buy groceries. She said she was worried that she is racking up expensive interest because she can’t make the card’s payments.

“It’s a whole lot of mess, and I’m hoping that as we come out of this, we can rebuild our social systems to actually work,” Waybrant said. “Not enough was done to take care of the everyday American.”

The pace of layoffs has slowed and as parts of the US reopen economists expect the numbers to keep dropping. But the numbers remain historically high and many states still have a backlog of claims to work through. Epidemiologists have also warned that there may be more outbreaks, and further lockdowns, as some states relax quarantine restrictions.

On Wednesday, ADP, the US’s largest payroll processor, said 20 million jobs had been cut from the private sector in April. The figure was the worst job loss ADP has recorded since it began compiling the report in 2002.

“Job losses of this scale are unprecedented. The total number of job losses for the month of April alone was more than double the total jobs lost during the Great Recession,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, co-head of the ADP Research Institute.

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