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: Marketplace Morning Report
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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
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
HTML EMBED:
COPY

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. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

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.

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

A report out recently 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.

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