WASHINGTON – More than 3.8 million new claims for unemployment benefits were filed last week in the United States, pushing above 30 million the number of jobs lost as a result of restrictions on movement and activity put in place to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Claims declined from 4.42 million the previous week, while the four-week rolling average of new applications slipped from 5.79 million to 5.03 million.
The last week of March saw 6.9 million claims filed.
“The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 12.4 percent for the week ending April 18,” the Labor Department said. “This marks the highest level of the seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate in the history of the seasonally adjusted series.”
The insured unemployment figure tracks people who have already filed an initial claim and experienced at least one week of unemployment before filing a continued claim.
The number of people receiving benefits, 17.99 million, likewise set a new record.
As bad as the figures on unemployment claims are, the reality is ever worse, as the data don’t include self-employed people idled by the various lockdowns aimed at containing a disease that has already claimed nearly 61,000 lives in the US.
And according to a study released this week by the Economic Policy Institute, for every 10 people who successfully filed for jobless benefits, three or four other laid-off workers were unable to navigate the system and another two people found the process so daunting that they didn’t try to file claims.
“These findings imply the official count of unemployment insurance claims likely drastically understates the extent of employment reductions and the need for economic relief during the coronavirus crisis,” the Washington-based think tank said.
US gross domestic product shrank 4.8 percent in the first quarter, its worst performance since plummeting 8.4 percent in the final quarter of 2008 during the Great Recession, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.
Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of US economic activity, plunged 7.6 percent in the first quarter, its steepest drop in 61 years.
The US headline unemployment rate climbed to 4.4 percent in March, its highest level since 2017, and 701,000 positions were eliminated, the Labor Department said on April 3 in the first monthly jobs report to reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world’s largest economy.
It was the first negative jobs figure after 113 consecutive months of gains. The last time the US saw job destruction on this scale was during the Great Recession in 2009.
The Labor Department’s broader U-6 measure of unemployment, which includes people working part-time who would prefer a full-time position and workers who have given up looking for a job, rose from 7.0 percent in February to 8.7 percent last month.
Analysts expect the April jobs report, due out Friday, to show that the headline unemployment rate has soared above 15 percent, compared with 10 percent in the depths of the 2008-2009 economic crisis.
Part of the $3 trillion in spending approved by Congress to address the economic fallout of the pandemic is going toward temporarily topping up unemployment benefits.