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May 05, 2020

Growing numbers of Americans lose jobs

Growing numbers of Americans lose jobs

Whilst the number of layoffs in the US has slowed down, according to figures released at the end of April, in only six weeks, 30 million people in the country have applied for unemployment benefits, with the numbers still rising. Figures from the labor department released on April 28th revealed a fourth consecutive week of declining claims. Whilst the trend is encouraging, US unemployment is still on track to reach levels unseen since the Great Depression, which was “by some calculations the longest and deepest in the post-war period.”

Whilst there is hope that the number of layoffs may slow down further as businesses begin to open up, there is also the threat that easing the quarantine rules could start a wave of new infections and shutdowns. At the end of April, Boeing made an announcement that Covid-19 has caused “a body blow” to the business, triggering the company to consider laying off 16,000 people, which equates to 10% of its workforce. The latest Department of Labor figures also reveal that the insured unemployment rate is at 12.4% for the week ending 18 April, which is the highest percentage recorded since the department started releasing the figures.

“On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will report on US employment and unemployment for April—a mid-April snapshot. […] [Since] between March 14 and April 18, more than 26 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits, it seems certain that Friday’s report will show a sharp deterioration in labor market conditions,” Katharine G. Abraham, Director, Maryland Center for Economics and Policy, writes.

However, she also believes that the data to be released on Friday might potentially be less reliable and more difficult to interpret than would ordinarily be the case. Whilst in a typical month, the BLS employment report provides information that is widely recognized as among the most reliable provided by any government agency worldwide, this month, there is likely to be more than the usual amount of uncertainty about exactly what the data reveals. “To make sense of the April unemployment numbers, we should look not only at unemployment but also at the counts of non-employed people who say they want work and are available but have not recently searched for a job,” Abraham adds.

Read Katharine G. Abraham’s opinion piece What is happening to unemployment in the post-Covid-19 labor market? and Daniel S. Hamermesh’s article The labor market in the US, 2000–2018.

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If you'd like to read our opinion pieces on the coronavirus crisis, you can find them below:

"Coronavirus and the labor market," by Daniel S. Hamermesh
"Fighting a coronavirus recession," by Daniel S. Hamermesh
"Pandemics and the labor market—Then and now," by Karen Clay
"Pricing the lives saved by coronavirus policies," by W. Kip Viscusi
"Health effects of the coronavirus recession," by Christopher J. Ruhm
"The long-term consequences of missing a term of school," by Simon Burgess and Hans Sievertsen
"Coronavirus, telecommuting, and the labor market," by Nikos Askitas
"Expectations about Covid-19 social-distancing measures in Italy and their impact on compliance," by Guglielmo BrisceseNicola LaceteraMario Macis, and Mirco Tonin
"The coronavirus crisis and the next generation," by Bart Cockx
"Korea: A paragon of dealing with coronavirus," by Sok Chul Hong
"Economic implications of postponing the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games," by Peter J. Sloane
"The sudden growth of employee autonomy during the coronavirus lockdown," by Elisa Gerten and Michael Beckmann
"Mitigating the work–safety trade-off," by Tito BoeriAlessandro CaiumiMarco Paccagnella
"Trading off lives for jobs," by Daniel S. Hamermesh
"Trends in Covid-19 infection: What New York City neighborhoods tell us," by George J. Borjas
"Labor markets during the Covid-19 crisis: A preliminary view," by Olivier CoibionYuriy GorodnichenkoMichael Weber
"Did California’s shelter-in-place order work? Early coronavirus-related public health effects," by Andrew FriedsenDrew McNicholsJoseph J. SabiaDhaval Dave
"200 billion hours to spend: The Covid-19 opportunity to upskill," by Peter SiminskiEmil Temnyalov      
"The CARES Act—Massive government intervention in the economic crisis," by Richard Prisinzano
"What is happening to unemployment in the post-Covid-19 labor market?," by Katharine G. Abraham

Please note:
We recognize that IZA World of Labor articles may prompt discussion and possibly controversy. Opinion pieces, such as the one above, capture ideas and debates concisely, and anchor them with real-world examples. Opinions stated here do not necessarily reflect those of the IZA.