Another 3.8 million people filed for unemployment in the U.S. last week, meaning over 30 million people total have filed for jobless claims in the six weeks since the pandemic begins. NPR reports that’s approximately one in five Americans who had a job in February.
An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that nearly half of its respondents had been laid off or seen their hours reduced by the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s desperate attempts to flatten the curve and save lives. The sudden, unprecedented leap in unemployment is all the more striking given the last few years of record lows in unemployment.
“It is heartbreaking, frankly to see that all threatened now,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday. “All the more need for our urgent response and also that of Congress — which has been urgent and large — to do what we can to avoid longer-run damage to the economy.”
While Congress has expanded unemployment benefits to gig workers and freelancers who do not ordinarily qualify, many are still waiting for their payments. The Labor Department’s unemployment claim delivery system was already woefully out-of-date and has been left utterly overwhelmed by the magnitude of demand.