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COVID-19

Roughly 1 in 10 workers have lost their jobs in the past 3 weeks

Mitchell Hartman Apr 9, 2020
With a startling 6.6 million people seeking jobless benefits last week, the United States has reached a grim landmark Joe Raedle/Getty Images
COVID-19

Roughly 1 in 10 workers have lost their jobs in the past 3 weeks

Mitchell Hartman Apr 9, 2020
With a startling 6.6 million people seeking jobless benefits last week, the United States has reached a grim landmark Joe Raedle/Getty Images

With a startling 6.6 million people seeking jobless benefits last week, the United States has reached a grim landmark — roughly 10% of workers have lost their jobs in just the past three weeks. It’s the largest and fastest string of job losses on record (to 1948).

California, New York, Michigan and Florida had the highest number of claims. And the actual number of Americans out of work or nearly so is almost surely higher. The volume of new claims for state unemployment benefits gives us a rough sense of the scale of job losses across the country.

One thing we do know about the number who have applied for unemployment insurance claims “is that it is less than the number of people who are out of work because of the virus,” said former Labor Department chief economist Heidi Shierholz.

For one thing, each state has different eligibility rules for claiming unemployment. Some make it hard to qualify if you didn’t work long enough or make enough in your previous job.

Until last week, most states weren’t accepting unemployment claims from people who don’t have traditional employers: gig workers, freelancers and the self-employed.

“So that includes anyone who is an independent contractor. They’re just like everyone else, seeing demand for their services totally bottom out,” Shierholz said.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program recently passed by Congress does extend benefits to these workers. We should see them surging into state unemployment systems in coming weeks.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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