Graham Kilmer

More Than 22 Million Lost Jobs During Pandemic

A pair of economists estimate the unemployment rate is as high as 20 percent.

By - Apr 16th, 2020 04:46 pm
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On March 19th, the downtown Milwaukee Punch Bowl Social laid off 91 employees. Photo by Jennifer Rick.

On March 19th, the downtown Milwaukee Punch Bowl Social laid off 91 employees. Photo by Jennifer Rick.

The number of unemployment claims continues to set new records as businesses remain closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Newly released figures from the U.S. Department of Labor show that 5.5 million people filed for unemployment over the past week. That brings the number of unemployment claims since the beginning of March to 22.5 million. 

Despite a recent drop in unemployment claims, compared to the last week’s report of 6.6 million claims, the weekly average of unemployment claims continues to grow. The four-week rolling average increased to 5.5 million claims per week as a result.

With 22.5 million claims, at least 14 percent of the country’s labor force has recently become unemployed. Add that to the latest reported unemployment rate of 4.4 percent, based on data collected in early March before the COVID-19 pandemic started, the country has an approximate unemployment rate of 18 percent. 

A pair of economists attempting to develop real-time unemployment data estimate that 17 percent unemployment is likely the low end. Using a survey that closely followed the Current Population Survey (CPS) used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine the unemployment rate, Alexander Bick of Arizona State University and Adam Blandin of Virginia Commonwealth University believe the current unemployment rate is approximately 20 percent.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman noted that 20 percent would make current unemployment “more or less match” levels seen during the peak of the Great Depression.

In Wisconsin, the number of claims filed in the past seven days is slightly down compared to the last week. There were 59,321 new unemployment claims filed between April 9th and 15th. In the seven days prior the state saw 76,391.

Despite the drop, the number of unemployment claims continue to come in at 10 to 15 times the amount that came in last year during the same time period. Based upon the size of Wisconsin’s labor force and the number of unemployment claims, at least 12 percent of Wisconsin workers have lost their job since March 15.

In a statement, Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia said, “The department has disbursed more than half a billion dollars in administrative funding to states to help them contend with the surge in claims and burden on their staff and computer systems, and additional funding will be released as states apply and meet the requirements set by Congress.”

The State of Wisconsin paid out $68.7 million in unemployment insurance between March 15 and April 6, having received 313,068 new claims during that period.

Still, Wisconsin has the third-lowest percentage increase in unemployment claims nationally when comparing 2020 to 2019, according to WalletHub, a personal finance website.

Plenty of people are missing from the unemployment figures though, including “independent contractors, those who don’t have long enough work histories, those who had to quit work to care for a child whose school closed, and more,” according to Heidi Shierholz senior economist and director of policy at EPI.

So actual unemployment numbers are likely higher. Which would mean the pair of researchers, Bick and Blandin, were not far off when they estimated that 24 million jobs were lost by the first week of April.

If there is a silver lining, and Bick and Blandin say there is, it’s this: more than half of the unemployed people they surveyed said they were temporarily laid off, and three quarters of those laid off said they have been given a “concrete date of return or the indication to be called back within six months.”

“This suggests that a large share of the unemployed might be quickly recalled to their previous jobs once the economy is opened up,” they wrote.

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Categories: Economics, Health

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