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Jobless Claims at 2.1 Million, But Joblessness Shrinks Slightly

May 28, 2020
Initial claims remain at historic highs, but continuing claims fell by 3.8 million.

Last week, the Department of Labor recorded 2,123,000 initial claims for unemployment benefits, a decrease of 323,000 from revised numbers on the week ending May 16. The rate of initial jobless claims has been in the millions for ten weeks now after spiking over two weeks to more than 6.8 million in late March and early April and slowly declining in the eight weeks since.

The four states with the highest numbers of initial claims were California, New York, Florida and Georgia. More than 40 million people have so far applied for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.

The separate but related Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, designed to provide unemployment benefits to people usually ineligible, recorded 1,192,616 claims last week, a drop of 54,255 from adjusted figures on the week before. The PUAC was authorized by the CARES Act, the $2 trillion stimulus bill passed by Congress in late March.

One figure showed signs of the changing times, though. Continued claims, a measure of how many people are currently receiving unemployment benefits, fell by 3.8 million people between the weeks of May 9 and May 16. The timing coincides with a period where more businesses are reopening their doors amid relaxed quarantine standards, and continued claims will continue to fall if that trend continues uninterrupted.

The next significant sign of how the economy is adapting through the COVID-19 crisis will come next week, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its May jobs report June 5. The last available Employment Situation report, for the month of April, was released May 8 and showed an active unemployment rate of 14.7%, its highest level since the Great Depression. That figure doesn’t include people who are considered outside of the labor market or who have stopped working for work. Some predictions have the unemployment rate reaching 20%, or about 5% shy of records set during the Great Depression.

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