3.3 Million File for Unemployment Claims, Shattering The Record A record number of Americans filed for unemployment benefits for the first time last week as the coronavirus hammered the economy. It's nearly five times the levels seen during the Great Recession.

3.3 Million File Unemployment Claims, Shattering Records

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Just how many Americans are out of work? The best estimates say the number is in the millions now. And unlike with past economic shocks that unfolded over many months, this crisis arrived in weeks. Today, we learn with more certainty just how severe the job cuts have been in recent days. NPR correspondent Jim Zarroli covers business and economics. Jim, good morning.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are today's numbers that we're expecting?

ZARROLI: Well, we can expect a brutal picture, I think. We're almost certain to see record numbers of people who filed for unemployment last week. We have seen...

INSKEEP: Oh, that's the number. It's going to be one week. And it was the week that much of America shut down. That's what we're talking about here.

ZARROLI: Right, the week ending March 21. The week before that, we saw an increase of about 70,000, which was, you know, strong but - which was a lot, but not anything like what we are going to see this week. Economists so far are saying, you know, we will just see enormous losses last week. The Economic Policy Institute, for instance, it estimated that as many as 3.4 million people filed for claims last week.

Just for comparison - even during the worst weeks of the Great Recession, the number never topped 665,000. And we had almost that many in California alone last week. So, you know, the number of jobs lost is just way more than we've ever seen before. And that's just last week. We're going to be continuing to lose jobs for a while.

INSKEEP: Are some parts of the economy harder hit than others?

ZARROLI: Well, I mean, in the kind of complex, multilayered economy we have, the losses are eventually going to affect every part of the economy. A few industries have been especially hard hit now - transportation, especially airlines, energy and hotels and restaurants. So we're seeing places like Florida and Nevada, places that depend on tourism, hit really hard because nobody's traveling right now.


ZARROLI: A hotel industry trade group has said the industry probably lost a million jobs since this crisis began. Also seeing a drop in energy prices, so states like Texas and Oklahoma, where oil and gas is really important, have seen layoffs. But we're seeing people everywhere lose jobs.

INSKEEP: Jim, we've all lost track of time here, I think. It seems like every day is very long and very full, and that we've been in this crisis for a very long time. But wasn't the economy pretty good just a month ago?

ZARROLI: It was. I mean, remember, just before this virus struck, we were still in the middle of just a really strong job market. I mean, we had a 3.5% unemployment rate in February. And now the St. Louis Fed has actually estimated that we could see unemployment go above 30% in the next month or so...


ZARROLI: ...Although, it will probably fall down pretty quickly, too, the St. Louis Fed says. So a lot of people are just feeling whiplash. I talked to a guy named Adam Hill (ph) from Worcester, Mass. He worked, until very recently, as a graphic designer for a company that does trade shows. And he says, you know, as recently as a few weeks ago, his company was having a really good year.

ADAM HILL: Then all of a sudden, it's just this show canceled, and then another one and another one. And it was - within two weeks, I think 155 shows had canceled. I guess I wasn't too surprised when we got laid off.

ZARROLI: So he says he's been told he will be rehired once the economy rebounds and the company can afford to bring him back. But, of course, he doesn't know when that will be, none of us does.

INSKEEP: Now, we're talking on this morning after the U.S. Senate passed a $2 trillion economic rescue package. There's a lot in there for companies. There's a lot in there for workers. How important is that going to be for these millions getting laid off?

ZARROLI: Yeah. They will definitely get some help. I mean, most states, for instance, now offer 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. The bill adds another 13 weeks for that. For the first four months, people will get an extra $400. It also covers people who work freelance part-time. So that's really important in the gig economy when you have a lot of people like Uber drivers who don't work regular jobs.


ZARROLI: But the big question is, will that be enough? And that depends on how long this downturn goes on. Most economists think we'll see a sharp downturn, but then when the epidemic is contained, things will turn around pretty quickly.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jim Zarroli. Thanks.

ZARROLI: You're welcome.

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