Coronavirus: Layoffs in US swell to nearly 39 million

Coronavirus: Layoffs in US swell to nearly 39 million

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits in the two months since the coronavirus took hold in the US has swelled to nearly 39 million, the government reported Thursday, even as states from coast to coast gradually reopen their economies and let people go back to work.

More than 2.4 million people filed for unemployment last week in the latest wave of layoffs from the business shutdowns that have brought the economy to its knees, the Labor Department said.

That brings the running total to a staggering 38.6 million, a job-market collapse unprecedented in its speed.

The number of weekly applications has slowed for seven straight weeks. Yet the figures remain breathtakingly high — 10 times higher than normal before the crisis struck.

It shows that even though all states have begun reopening over the past three weeks, employment has yet to snap back and the outbreak is still damaging businesses and destroying jobs.

“While the steady decline in claims is good news, the labor market is still in terrible shape,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said over the weekend that US unemployment could peak in May or June at 20 percent to 25 percent, a level last seen during the depths of the Great Depression almost 90 years ago. Unemployment in April stood at 14.7 percent, a figure also unmatched since the 1930s.

Children wearing face masks play on their scooters while their parents watch during the coronavirus pandemic on April 25, 2020 in New York City. (AFP)Children wearing face masks play on their scooters while their parents watch during the coronavirus pandemic on April 25, 2020 in New York City. (AFP)

Over 5 million people worldwide have been confirmed infected by the virus, and about 330,000 deaths have been recorded, including about 94,000 in the U.S. and around 165,000 in Europe, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University and based on government data. Experts believe the true toll is significantly higher.

British Security Minister James Brokenshire told the BBC that an app that was supposed to be introduced by mid-May is not ready, suggesting “technical issues” were to blame. Similarly, France delayed last week’s roll-out of its app because of technical problems and privacy concerns.

Italy’s premier said testing of his country’s app will begin in the coming days, and Spain plans to try out its technology at the end of June in the Canary Islands.

As for the search for a vaccine, drugmaker AstraZeneca said it has secured agreements to produce 400 million doses of a still experimental and unproven formulation that is being tested at the University of Oxford. It is one of the most advanced projects in the international race for a vaccine.

Pedestrians wearing masks walk in Brooklyn Bridge Park as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Reuters)Pedestrians wearing masks walk in Brooklyn Bridge Park as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Reuters)

While no vaccine has yet been proven to work against the virus, companies and governments are already trying to crank out some of the more promising candidates in hopes of saving time. It is a big gamble that could result in millions of doses being thrown out if the potential vaccine doesn’t pan out.

AstraZeneca said it has received more than $1 billion from a U.S. government research agency for the development, production and delivery of the vaccine.

Around the world, the effort to get back to business is raising worries over the risk of new infections, from hard-hit Milan, Italy, to meatpacking plants in Colorado and garment factories in Bangladesh.

In China, the communist leadership took extensive precautions as it prepared for the opening of its long-postponed National People’s Congress on Friday in Beijing. An outbreak there could be a public relations nightmare as President Xi Jinping showcases China’s apparent success in curbing the virus that first emerged in Wuhan late last year.

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