COVID-19

Weekly unemployment claims start to give a snapshot of COVID-19 layoffs

Mitchell Hartman Mar 19, 2020
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For the week of March 14, there were 281,000 new claims, the highest level for initial claims since Sept. 2, 2017. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
COVID-19

Weekly unemployment claims start to give a snapshot of COVID-19 layoffs

Mitchell Hartman Mar 19, 2020
For the week of March 14, there were 281,000 new claims, the highest level for initial claims since Sept. 2, 2017. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

We got an important economic report from the Labor Department Thursday morning — first-time claims for state unemployment benefits. When the number starts going up sharply, it’s often a warning sign that the economy’s in trouble.

For the week of March 14, there were 281,000 new claims, the highest level for initial claims since Sept. 2, 2017, when it was 299,000. This is up 70,000 from the first week of March, when there were 211,000 — near a historic low.

So, the layoff spike has started. But things will only get worse: Thursday’s data doesn’t even account for this week, when layoffs related to COVID-19 really started to ramp up.

We’ve seen multiple signs in recent days that layoffs are on the rise. Marriott is furloughing tens of thousands of hotel workers. Nevada is shuttering its casinos. Empty ports are laying off truck drivers. Canceled festivals are laying off staff.

Joseph Brusuelas at RSM Consulting said states are now being flooded with requests for unemployment benefits, and we should expect more.

“Over the next two to four weeks, a massive increase in first-time initial jobless claims,” Brusuelas said.

Over the last five years, claims have averaged around 250,000 a week. Brusuelas said once we go over that number, it tells us “the business cycle is over and the onset of a recession has begun.”

Unemployment was 3.5% in February, and Ryan Nunn at the Brookings Institution said it’s likely to start rising sharply.

“If we do get to rates of unemployment like those we saw in the Great Recession, the consequences will be quite, quite bad,” Nunn said.

Then, unemployment peaked at 10%. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has reportedly warned lawmakers that without robust economic stimulus measures, unemployment could hit 20%.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the latest on the extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

As of now, those $600-a-week payments will stop at the end of July. For many, unemployment payments have been a lifeline, but one that is about to end, if nothing changes. The debate over whether or not to extend these benefits continues among lawmakers.

With a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, are restaurants and bars shutting back down?

The latest jobs report shows that 4.8 million Americans went back to work in June. More than 30% of those job gains were from bars and restaurants. But those industries are in trouble again. For example, because of the steep rise in COVID-19 cases in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, increased restrictions on restaurant capacities and closed bars. It’s created a logistical nightmare.

Which businesses got Paycheck Protection Program loans?

The numbers are in — well, at least in part. The federal government has released the names of companies that received loans of $150,000 or more through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Some of the companies people are surprised got loans include Kanye West’s fashion line, Yeezy, TGI Fridays and P.F. Chang’s. The companies you might not recognize, particularly some smaller businesses, were able to hire back staff or partially reopen thanks to the loans.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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