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Unemployment Claims Soar To Nearly 3.3 Million As Coronavirus Shocks U.S. Economy

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Single-week unemployment claims are at an all-time high. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Single-week unemployment claims are at an all-time high. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Nearly 3.3 million people filed for unemployment last week as the coronavirus pandemic brought many industries to a standstill.

This is the highest number in the more than five decades that the U.S. Labor Department has tracked jobless claims, eclipsing the previous record of 695,000 in 1982.

Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, says it’s hard for economists to predict how high unemployment numbers will rise during this period of uncertainty.

“Our estimates suggest we’re well into the teens of millions in terms of 12 [million] to 15 million jobs lost. That eclipses any other recession,” she says. “And the speed with which it has occurred, an immediate loss of jobs, the likes of which we’ve never seen.”

Interview Highlights 

On how high she expect unemployment numbers to go

“It’s the first time ever we’ve seen on a real-time basis, known the week the economy fell into recession, which was March 1, 2020, it collapsed. But that also offers us clarity. It’s why the measures and aid by the government are so important. It’s why the efforts the Federal Reserve has done are so important.

“We know there’s an end date to this. We don’t know exactly when it is, but getting us to traverse these COVID-tainted waters in lifeboats is the best way to get us to the other side and pick up on the economy once this is over.”

On whether the $2 trillion relief package will do enough to limit the economic damage

“No. This is just the phase three of what will be many phases of aid. Congress is going to have to find a way to vote remotely to not, one, infect each other but to, two, make this more efficient. The process, it’s hard, but it’s necessary. This is something that other countries have gone higher as a share of GDP, that was a little over 9% of GDP. Other countries have gone higher than that with larger safety nets. We have huge gaps in our country. We don’t allow for people to lose jobs, particularly in such an extraordinary way through absolutely no fault of their own. I absolutely don’t understand anyone holding back at this point in time. Congress will never look back at this period of time and nobody will say, ‘Boy, you did too much.’ We’ll all look back and say, ‘Why didn’t you do more?’ ”

Chris Bentley produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O'Dowd. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on March 26, 2020.

Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.



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