What have you always wondered about the economy? Tell Us
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:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
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
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

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

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.”

Read More

Collapse

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.