Unemployment claims jump by 70,000 as virus impacts businesses
WASHINGTON - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits surged by 70,000 last week, reaching a two-year high.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that applications for benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 281,000 benefit applications last week. That was the highest weekly total since Sept. 2, 2017, following Hurricane Harvey.
Both the one-week rise and the total number of applications were far above the levels seen over the past year as the country’s unemployment rate fell to a half-century low of 3.5 percent.
Economists are predicting a surge in layoffs as efforts to contain the spreading coronavirus result in people losing jobs in a variety of industries from restaurants and bars to airlines and hotels.
“The more aggressive coronavirus containment measures imposed in recent days involving the near total shutdown of the retail, leisure and travel sectors in some parts of the country are clearly starting to have a dramatic impact,” said Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics.
He forecast that jobless benefit applications could easily exceed 1 million within the next few weeks, exceeding the weekly peak of 665,000 applications during the 2007-2009 Great Recession.
A proposal from Treasury has suggested spending $500 billion to provide checks for Americans who have suffered economic harm because of the virus.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that the administration hopes to start sending checks out in the next three weeks, but the timing will depend on how quickly Congress passes a relief plan.
“We are going to get through this,” Mnuchin said. “We are going to destroy this virus and our economy is going to come roaring back better than ever.”
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