NOEL KING, HOST:
More catastrophic numbers from the Labor Department, which says more than 4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week. NPR's Jim Zarroli is our go-to reporter on these weekly jobs numbers. Hi, Jim.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: So how bad is it?
ZARROLI: Very bad, horrible. We have had 26 million people filing for unemployment insurance over just the past five weeks. If you look at individual states last week, California and Florida both notched more than a half million new people filing for unemployment. In the country as a whole, 9.4% of the working-age population has filed for unemployment since mid-March. That's twice the share of the population that filed during the Great Recession.
So you know, more and more people losing their jobs - people can't work. Theaters, restaurants closing; factories have been shutting down. It's just, you know, like a wholesale collapse in the labor market, the kind we've never seen before. People will be telling their grandchildren about this.
KING: This is now our fifth week of doing interviews of this sort when the numbers come out. Let me ask you to put this week in perspective. How does it compare to last week?
ZARROLI: Well, we had fewer people lose their jobs than the week before, and that is maybe because, you know, so much damage has already been done. I mean, you can only, you know, close a restaurant or a factory once. But make no mistake - these are really huge losses by historic standards. It's like the economy has just frozen in place.
And this is showing up in a lot of other ways, too. I mean, surveys show that people are a lot less confident about their economic prospects, for instance. Gallup says 25% of working Americans think they're going to be laid off in the next year. You're seeing home construction down by nearly a quarter. Oil prices are way down 'cause there's less demand, which hurts states like Texas that depend on the energy sector for jobs.
KING: Jim, what does this mean for people who are still fortunate enough to be working?
ZARROLI: Well, one of the things we're seeing is more people working part-time. So rather than fire people altogether, companies are maybe just reducing their hours. Another thing we're seeing - at least anecdotally - is that companies are cutting wages. Instead of losing your job, you maybe make less money. And of course, you know, getting a pay cut is better than losing your job altogether, but it also means people have less money to spend and they're going to have more trouble making ends meet. You're going to see a lot of people just tapped out, and that's bad because the American economy really depends very heavily on consumer spending. And one of the results of that is, even when this pandemic is over, it's going to take that much longer for the economy to bounce back.
KING: Let me ask you, lastly - if so many people are filing for unemployment, who, ultimately, is paying for it?
ZARROLI: Well, the federal government is stepping in this time to pay for part of it. But the states mainly have the responsibility to pay for it, and they have trust funds that they use to pay for unemployment benefits. But the - you know, what happens is they sort of build up these funds in good times so people have benefits when times get bad, like now.
And there's growing evidence right now that these funds are just running down. A lot of states have seen double-digit losses in their funds. New York has applied for a federal loan to replenish its fund, and that's something you're going to see a lot of other states do as time goes on. And they'll have to find a way to pay off these loans, and that means tax increases.
KING: OK. NPR's Jim Zarroli.
Jim, thanks so much.
ZARROLI: You're welcome.
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