More Than 1 in 7 Workers Have Filed for Unemployment in 5 Weeks

Another 4.3 million initial unemployment insurance (UI) claims were filed the week ending April 18—more than 20 times the number filed (212,000) this week of last year. The full Bureau of Labor Statistics report can be found here. Ignoring seasonal adjustments to the data, 24.4 million claims have been filed over the last five weeks, after the volume of weekly claims shot up more than an order of magnitude in mid-March:

More than 1 in 7 workers who were employed in February have since lost their jobs and filed for unemployment insurance (it’s closer to 1 in 6). This again understates the degree of labor market fallout, because other workers have seen their hours cut or lost jobs without qualifying for UI. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program enacted by the CAREES Act, which expanded eligibility (e.g., to contract workers) is not yet operational, so eligibility for initial claims is still set by state-level requirements.

Taking these 24.4 million initial claims as a conservative proxy for job losses since the March jobs report, U.S. employment has fallen at least 16.4% since February. For a sense of scale, employment cumulatively fell 6.3% during the 2007-09 recession (in 26 months) and 2% during the 2001 recession (in 29 months). The 2007-09 recession (a.k.a. the “Great Recession”) was by far the worst since the Great Depression, and now we’ve seen more than 2.5 times the degree of job losses experienced in 2007-09 in one-twelfth the time:

Percentage Change in Employment During Recessions

There’s also a huge degree of regional heterogeneity in recent job losses. As economist Ernie Tedeschi points out, roughly 1 in 3 workers have lost jobs and filed for UI in Michigan, Kentucky, and Rhode Island:

Some of the initial claims in recent weeks reflect earlier job losses that are just now being processed because of capacity constraints (or terribly run UI systems, see Florida). Economist Heidi Shierholz estimates that about 7 million workers who have filed for claims (29% of the recent filers) have yet to receive them:

For more in depth coverage of the initial UI claims and labor market fallout, you should both follow Heidi Shierholz on twitter and read her latest take:

Visual representation of the bleak, unprecedented nature of the last five weeks, via EPI:


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