COVID-19

Jobless claims, now at 33 million, likely undercount people who aren’t working due to COVID-19

Mitchell Hartman May 7, 2020
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A person fills out an unemployment benefits application. The addition of $600 a week has enabled many Americans to keep spending and support businesses. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Jobless claims, now at 33 million, likely undercount people who aren’t working due to COVID-19

Mitchell Hartman May 7, 2020
Heard on:
A person fills out an unemployment benefits application. The addition of $600 a week has enabled many Americans to keep spending and support businesses. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
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Unemployment claims have been soaring around the country since the COVID-19 lockdown started. The running total is now at 33.5 million, with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Thursday report that 3,169,000 people filed initial claims in the week ending on May 2.

There’s reason to believe many more people aren’t working because of the pandemic and aren’t showing up in these first-time jobless claim numbers either.

Lynn Cooper, 47, lives in Minneapolis and had a good job in financial services. She left it for a better job that was supposed to start in late March, but didn’t because of the pandemic shutdown.

“I’m in a purgatory because I don’t qualify for unemployment,” Cooper said. She hasn’t even tried to apply because she quit voluntarily and doesn’t think she’s eligible, which means she has no income.

“It’s not easy — it’s incredibly stressful,” she said.

And Cooper’s not alone. We found in our Marketplace-Edison Research Poll that nearly half of those who are out of work haven’t applied for unemployment. Many others have tried and failed. Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said for every 100 people who successfully file, “37 additional workers tried to apply, but couldn’t get through the UI system to make a claim.”

Gould estimates 10 million to 15 million more workers could be getting jobless benefits if they applied and were approved. 

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