COVID-19

Despite staggering unemployment numbers, it’s even worse than it looks

Mitchell Hartman Apr 9, 2020
HTML EMBED:
COPY
One expert estimates unemployment in the U.S. is around 14% currently. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Despite staggering unemployment numbers, it’s even worse than it looks

Mitchell Hartman Apr 9, 2020
One expert estimates unemployment in the U.S. is around 14% currently. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Just before the pandemic hit, we’d get 200,000 to 215,000 new unemployment claims every week, on average.

Since mid-March, it’s been 20 to 30 times higher than that — 16.9 million people have filed jobless claims since layoffs and shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading nationwide. Nearly one out of 10 people who had a job to go to before the pandemic doesn’t have one now. 

But it’s even worse than that, said economist Robert Frick at Navy Federal Credit Union.

“There are people who are contract workers. There are people who actually cannot file for unemployment because states are so backed up,” he said. 

Still more people likely won’t qualify for unemployment benefits: parents who have to stay home with school-age kids, people quarantined because they’re at high risk for COVID-19 and new graduates who can’t even look for work. 

“I think we’re around 14% unemployment rate right now, plus or minus 2%,” Frick said.

How high could it go this summer? 

“Twenty percent seems like a reasonable low end,” Frick said. “But the caveat here is it’s not 20% for years, we’re not talking about the Great Depression here. Twenty percent for two or three months, then things’ll start coming down.”

A better measure of the overall economic damage might be loss of household income. After all, that’s what all the layoffs and people on reduced hours and shuttered businesses means at the end of the day.

“Basically a third of income in the economy will fall in the second quarter — capital income and labor income,” said Kent Smetters, faculty director of the Penn Wharton Budget Model, which recently crunched the numbers on GDP and job loss.

One thing that might mitigate all that income and job loss is the hundreds of billions of dollars Congress has earmarked in its latest stimulus plan (the CARES Act) for loans to small businesses, so they can keep their employees on the payroll. 

Randy Dellwo owns RBD Instruments, a company that makes scientific equipment in Bend, Oregon. Business is down 75% right now, but so far he’s managed to keep paying his 10 employees.

“We’re expecting that we’re not going to lose anybody, we’re going to be able to get through this OK, in part due to that SBA program,” he said.

Dellwo has applied to his bank for a forgivable SBA loan through the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program to cover labor and operating expenses for a few months. He says orders are actually starting to pick up again from South Korea and China, where the pandemic appears to be waning.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

Are people still waiting for unemployment payments?

Yes. There is no way to know exactly how many people have been waiting for months and are still not getting unemployment, because states do not have a good system in place for tracking that kind of data, according to Andrew Stettner of The Century Foundation. But by his own calculations, only about 60% of people who have applied for benefits are currently receiving them. That means there are millions still waiting. Read more here on what they are doing about it.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out Tuesday from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

Read More

Collapse

As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.

Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.