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Another 2.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week

In total, 38.6 million people have filed first-time jobless claims since mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic forces businesses to lay off workers. CNN's Christine Romans reports.

Posted: May 22, 2020 1:01 AM
Updated: May 22, 2020 1:01 AM

For the ninth week in a row, millions of Americans filed for initial unemployment benefits. Even as the economy is beginning to reopen in parts of the country, layoffs and furloughs have taken hold of the US labor market.

Another 2.4 million Americans filed for first-time benefits last week on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Department of Labor reported on Thursday. In total, 38.6 million people have filed for initial unemployment aid since mid-March, when lockdowns began in full force across the country. That corresponds to 23.7% of the March US labor force.

Stripping out the seasonal adjustments, which had accounted for a slight increase from the previous week, the number of claims stood at 2.2 million last week.

In normal times, the seasonal adjustments help smooth out the data and provide a clearer picture. But in a crisis such as this one, adjustments can distort what's really going on, said Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute.

In a rare quirk, claims for the week before, which ended May 9, were revised down sharply -- from nearly 3 million to 2.7 million. That's welcome news, but it was expected because it was the result of a reporting error from Connecticut's Labor Department, which substantially overreported the number of that state's claims from the week prior.

Last week, Georgia overtook Kentucky as the state where the highest percentage of the March labor force -- 39.3% -- filed for initial jobless claims. In Kentucky, 38.5% of the work force has applied for initial unemployment aid.

Now for the (relatively) good news: First-time claims have declined for seven straight weeks. They peaked at 6.9 million in the final week of March.

Economists expect further declines in the coming weeks as states begin to reopen their economies. Still, the weekly claims are at historically highs. The four-week average now sits just above 3 million claims; in the years before the pandemic, the weekly unemployment numbers were around the 200,000 level.

The continued job losses suggest layoffs are no longer only happening just because of the economy shutdown -- but also because there is a more permanent re-allocation away from jobs that need lots of face-to-face interaction, said Deutsche Bank chief economist Torsten Sløk in a note to clients.

Pandemic benefits

In addition to filing for regular unemployment insurance, the Department of Labor announced more than 2.2 million people in 35 states last week filed initial claims for the pandemic unemployment assistance program.

However, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development later clarified that just under 116,000 residents submitted first-time claims for the pandemic program last week, not the nearly 1.2 million listed on the federal agency's press release. The problem was a state data entry error. This would reduce the number of Americans newly filing for the pandemic program nationwide to less than 1.2 million.

Congress created this program to provide benefits to independent contractors, the self employed, gig workers and certain people affected by the coronavirus. Nearly 1.9 million people filed first-time pandemic claims in the two weeks ending May 9.

Meanwhile, more than 6 million Americans in 27 states have filed continued jobless claims under the pandemic program in the week ending May 2, a spike of more than 2.7 million in seven days.

California had the highest number of residents who filed continued claims, at nearly 1.8 million, followed by Michigan with more than 1.2 million.

The jobs crisis

Joblessness is a crisis in the United States. Wide swaths of the country's labor market will remain closed as the coronavirus makes returning to work impossible for many Americans. Economists expect many -- but not all -- jobs will return as the economy reopens. But experts remain concerned that some jobs will be permanently eliminated by this crisis.

Continued jobless claims -- which count people filing for unemployment benefits for at least two weeks in a row -- rose to 25.1 million, up 2.5 million from the week before. This brings the seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate to 17.2% for the week ended May 9.

Countless Americans have had trouble filing for jobless benefits since the pandemic began. State unemployment agencies were overwhelmed with the onslaught of new claims, but things have been improving.

Florida says it has paid 96% of eligible claims, up from a small fraction a month ago. And New York officials said Wednesday that only 7,580 of the applications filed prior to April 22 still need more information to be processed, while 20,800 claims are awaiting workers' certification before they can be paid. The state has paid nearly 1.2 million claimants who filed before that date.

While the latest national figures "indicate that there are still millions of individuals who have applied for unemployment benefits and are awaiting aid, there is finally evidence that help is being delivered on a larger scale," said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation.

Economists are paying more attention to how many people are claiming benefits longer-term to understand how the labor market is recovering as the economy is beginning to reopen. One big question is if this is the peak for continued claims, or whether they will keep climbing as the crisis leaves people out of work for weeks on end.

Last week was also the cut-off week for the survey on which the Bureau of Labor Statistics' monthly jobs report is based, "giving us a sense of how painful the next jobs report will be," said Nick Bunker, director of economic research at Indeed Hiring Lab. "Since the April jobs report was measured, 15.8 million claims have been filled."

Unemployment claims do not equal lost jobs. Those two numbers are based on different surveys.

The BLS's last jobs report showed some 20 million jobs got wiped out in April, while the unemployment rate jumped to 14.7%, its highest level since the agency began tracking it in 1948.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect Massachusetts' reporting error in the number of initial claims filed for the pandemic unemployment assistance program.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 941120

Reported Deaths: 15315
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1282511983
Lake633041097
Allen53609758
Hamilton43827447
St. Joseph41906590
Elkhart33545490
Vanderburgh30383448
Tippecanoe26820249
Johnson23609417
Hendricks22250341
Porter21737346
Clark17409229
Madison17366384
Vigo16108281
Monroe14466191
LaPorte14311239
Delaware14070221
Howard13865272
Kosciusko11418135
Hancock10841165
Warrick10674177
Bartholomew10542168
Floyd10430205
Wayne9959226
Grant9130204
Morgan8865160
Boone8389111
Dubois7710123
Dearborn762289
Henry7608130
Noble7413101
Marshall7362128
Cass7176117
Lawrence6957153
Shelby6584111
Jackson656785
Gibson6156107
Harrison603786
Huntington600195
Montgomery5805105
DeKalb574291
Knox5494104
Miami542488
Putnam536768
Clinton533665
Whitley524953
Steuben497268
Wabash483592
Jasper479160
Jefferson470092
Ripley454277
Adams444068
Daviess4169108
Scott405865
White391857
Clay390857
Greene388392
Decatur385296
Wells384983
Fayette374278
Posey359941
Jennings353156
Washington332047
LaGrange321375
Spencer317835
Fountain316555
Randolph312888
Sullivan307449
Owen283863
Starke280064
Fulton277553
Orange275859
Jay254837
Perry251652
Carroll243729
Franklin239338
Rush234130
Vermillion233250
Parke219820
Tipton209655
Pike207639
Blackford168334
Pulaski163551
Crawford146018
Newton144345
Benton142516
Brown135346
Martin128217
Switzerland125810
Warren114616
Union96911
Ohio79711
Unassigned0479

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1365800

Reported Deaths: 21596
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1522221560
Cuyahoga1344852327
Hamilton976051320
Montgomery670271141
Summit562091047
Lucas50900863
Butler47417655
Stark41580976
Lorain31567532
Warren30001331
Mahoning26963639
Clermont25628292
Lake24585417
Delaware22313145
Licking20487241
Fairfield20420221
Greene20309272
Trumbull19866509
Medina19796287
Clark17879328
Richland16314234
Portage16130229
Wood15681208
Allen14115256
Miami13786253
Muskingum12641152
Wayne11946238
Columbiana11708241
Tuscarawas10953269
Marion10725148
Pickaway10465129
Scioto10324127
Erie9747171
Ross9436176
Lawrence8755125
Hancock8458141
Ashtabula8317185
Geauga8173156
Belmont8140187
Jefferson7527172
Huron7423128
Union731851
Washington7183120
Athens697165
Sandusky6848134
Darke6756136
Knox6671122
Seneca6358137
Ashland5948113
Auglaize587188
Shelby5727101
Brown564171
Mercer557890
Defiance5483101
Madison543371
Crawford5425114
Highland541581
Fulton530683
Clinton525580
Logan512182
Preble4994110
Putnam4833106
Guernsey470364
Williams459282
Perry449852
Champaign445964
Ottawa436884
Jackson425362
Pike388843
Morrow383851
Fayette375853
Coshocton374766
Adams360675
Hardin359069
Gallia347356
Holmes3259108
Henry324668
Van Wert314670
Hocking301769
Wyandot280658
Carroll262652
Paulding242243
Meigs213942
Monroe189749
Noble169340
Morgan165829
Harrison157940
Vinton138118
Unassigned05
Fort Wayne
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Angola
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Decatur
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Sunshine and warmer air return to round out the work week, but the warm-up is brief.
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