By Jeffry Bartash, MarketWatch
Applications for unemployment benefits may top 35 million
The worst stretch of layoffs in modern American history is starting to wind down, but several million people are still losing their jobs each week due to coronavirus shutdowns.
New jobless claims are expected to increase by 2.7 million from May 3 to May 9, according to Wall Street economists polled by MarketWatch. The number of applications for unemployment compensation peaked at a seasonally adjusted 6.9 million in late March and has fallen steadily over the past month.
See: MarketWatch Economic Calendar ()
The latest batch of new claims, however, would push total requests for benefits to more than 35 million since the pandemic began in early March. Last week the government said the U.S. unemployment rate surged to a post-World War Two high of 14.7% -- or almost 20% if adjusted for furloughs.
There are still some big caveats, though.
For one thing, not all of the people who have tried to apply for benefits have gotten through to state unemployment offices besieged with applications, short of staff and relying on ancient computer systems. New jobless claims are almost certainly higher than the official data show.
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What's more, the states and federal government have only recently begun to report the number of new claims filed by self-employed workers and independent contractors made eligible for the first time ever under an emergency federal program that extended and enhanced unemployment benefits.
An additional 2.5 million people applied for compensation through May 2 under the federal government's Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, but less than half the states have reported these figures.
Taking those filings into account, new claims have already topped 35 million.
On the flip side, an unidentified number of employees have been called back to work as states start to reopen their economies and companies try to get back to business. Some economists estimate as many as 5 million people may have returned to work in the past several weeks.
The workforce-management company Kronos, which also makes digital time clocks for employees, said this week that the number of workers punching time clocks has risen 11% in the past month at the 30,000 businesses in the company's database.
The gradual increase from a record low indicates "more shifts are being finally worked again and more employees are starting to return to work," Kronos said.
In some cases, large retailers such as Amazon (AMZN) and WalMart (WMT) have also sought to hire hundreds of thousands of people to handle a crush of demand in online purchases.
Read: Why the economy's recovery from the coronavirus is likely to be long and painful ()
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Even with all that, the unemployment rate is likely to creep higher. More companies are laying off workers, filing for bankruptcy or deciding to close for good. Some of the workers furloughed in anticipation of returning to their old jobs now won't be able to, joining the long-term ranks of the unemployed.
If so, the unemployment rate could possibly end up surpasssing 25% and breaking the all-time record set during the Great Depression. The U.S. didn't keep complete employment data back then, but economic historians estimate the jobless rate peaked at 24.9% in 1933.
-Jeffry Bartash; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 15, 2020 13:54 ET (17:54 GMT)
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