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US workers file another 1.9 million jobless claims amid coronavirus

Nearly 1.9 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week as the coronavirus crisis put 42 million people out of work in less than three months, new data show.

Thursday marked the first time since mid-March that US Department of Labor’s weekly figure fell below 2 million — a number that would have been unthinkable before the pandemic sparked an American employment crisis not seen since the Great Depression.

“The states are opening up, but the job offers are turning down,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank. “We can’t keep getting weekly initial claims for unemployment benefits at this level and say the economy is A-OK.”

The seasonally adjusted totals of initial jobless claims have steadily declined since peaking at 6.8 million in late March. But last week’s number was still nearly triple the 665,000 claims seen at the height of the Great Recession about a decade ago.

Moreover, the number of people filing continued unemployment claims rose again after falling earlier in May, a troubling sign as states eased lockdown measures aimed at controlling the virus. There were 21.4 million continuing claims in the week ending May 23, up from 20.8 million the week prior, according to the seasonally adjusted data.

“I think it generally signals that whatever reopening had occurred by right before Memorial Day had no meaningful impact on rehiring,” unemployment insurance expert Andrew Stettner told The Post. “People are still excited to get things going again but we’re not seeing it yet in these numbers.”

States such as California, Texas and Oregon saw big upticks in continued claims that outweighed decreases in 37 states, noted Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation think tank.

The number of people claiming Pandemic Unemployment Assistance — the federal benefit created for gig workers and others not usually eligible for regular benefits — also surged by nearly 3 million to about 10.7 million in the week ending May 16, the feds said, citing data from 35 states.

New York saw the nation’s biggest decrease in initial claims last week as several regions began to emerge from coronavirus lockdowns, data show. The state recorded an unadjusted 82,981 filings, down from 189,087 the prior week, according to the feds.

Economists were expecting the feds to report about 1.8 million new jobless filings ahead of Friday’s closely watched employment report for May. Experts predict it will show the unemployment rate at or near 20 percent given that job losses continued last month even as some parts of the country started reopening their economies.

While the April report indicated most jobless Americans expected to be only temporarily out of work, the limits under which businesses will have to operate once they reopen may slow the pace of rehiring, according to Stettner.

Friday’s report “will tell you the steep hole that we are facing,” Stettner told The Post. “If the virus stays contained this will be the bottom of the labor market, and it will show you the depth of getting up from it.”

With Post wires


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