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22 Million Americans Have Now Filed For Unemployment In The Last 4 Weeks


A nearly nationwide lockdown may be starting to bear fruit. Many states report that the rate of new cases of coronavirus is plateauing, even going down in some places.


But another rate is skyrocketing - the rate of people losing their jobs.

SHAPIRO: We learned today that more than 5 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week. That's 22 million people total losing their jobs in the last four weeks.

CHANG: Devin Amato (ph) is one of them. He lives in Long Beach, Calif., and worked at a graphics and printing company. He was furloughed in March.

DEVIN AMATO: I was panicking a little because I was worried that if there wasn't enough work when we all get to go back, the art team might be some of the first people to be let go.

SHAPIRO: Finances are tight for Devin and his wife right now.

AMATO: We're definitely making cuts. We're definitely worried about where we're going to be in a couple of months, even a month. Like, right now we're getting our produce, and we're basically using every single thing. We're cutting the tops of the carrots off and cooking those in soup. Everything that we can cook, we're cooking.

CHANG: Job loss on this scale is new, something we have never seen before in modern America. And so we called up Elise Gould to help us wrap our brains around it. She's a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute. It's a left-leaning think tank in Washington. Welcome.

ELISE GOULD: Thank you for inviting me.

CHANG: So can you just help us understand these numbers? I mean, 5 million applying for benefits last week, a total of 22 million over four weeks - what are we supposed to even do with these figures?

GOULD: Right. They're just so hard to imagine because they are just so large. So you're talking about...

CHANG: Yeah.

GOULD: ...Over 20 million people, and you have about 150 million people - workers in the economy. So that means that more than 1 in 8 workers applied for unemployment insurance benefits in the last four weeks.

CHANG: Astounding.

GOULD: That's a huge number, 1 in 8. Yes.

CHANG: And we know that the restaurant and retail industries have taken massive hits because of these stay-at-home orders, but I'm curious. What kinds of job losses are you seeing in other industries?

GOULD: It's certainly true that leisure and hospitality is the No. 1 industry that we're seeing workers cut from. You're also seeing that in retail trade. You're seeing that actually across the economy but particularly centered in these types of industries like tourism - so hotels, airlines. People aren't going out to restaurants. So those are the types of jobs - and not going into stores to buy other retail goods.

So those are the types of frontline kind of jobs that are being eliminated right now. Workers are being furloughed. They're being laid off. Their hours are being cut. And then that's why you see 20, 22 million people applying for unemployment insurance. Those are huge numbers. They dwarf anything we've ever seen in a recession before. It's more than five times the worst four-week stretch in the Great Recession.

CHANG: Amazing. One interesting, troubling thing that I know that you have found is that women have been hit harder by these job losses. Why would that be?

GOULD: Yes, absolutely. We're seeing - in multiple data sources, we're seeing that the job losses and furloughs have disproportionately affected women, and this is the result of two factors. One, women are more concentrated in sectors that experienced more job loss. Again, think about those leisure and hospitality jobs.

CHANG: Right.

GOULD: More than half of those jobs are filled by women. And the second factor is that women also tended to see more job loss than men, women even within those sectors. So the women that are losing their jobs - it's because they're in those sectors that have more job loss. But even within those sectors, they tended to see more job loss than men.

CHANG: And why might that be, you think?

GOULD: This kind of overrepresentation could be due to the types of jobs women hold within each sector. We know that there are certain occupations that women are more likely to have than men as a result of historical, cultural factors. It could also be other phenomenon, such as labor market discrimination, which has led disproportionate shares of women in jobs that may be more subject to job loss. If they're less likely to be managers, which are being held on to...

CHANG: Right. Exactly.

GOULD: ...Then those jobs are going to be cut.

CHANG: Now, the forces behind our current situation are really different than in previous downturns. Many of these businesses cannot safely operate right now, so they've laid off workers. They've closed up shop. But what happens when this pandemic ends? I mean, how many of these jobs do you think will come back?

GOULD: I'm still quite optimistic that if policymakers make the right moves now and in the coming months and years, then most of these jobs - the vast majority of these jobs will return. I think that we will get back to a kind of normalcy after this. I think that there are habits that have developed during this short time as many people telework and as other people are laid off and then another group are really at risk risking their lives every day on the frontlines, those essential workers and health care as well as grocery stores.

I think we will see some return to normalcy - that is, if we can provide the right relief to households today and then provide the right relief also to households in the future and state and local governments in the future. That will be essential to getting a full recovery.

CHANG: Elise Gould is a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute. Thank you very much.

GOULD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.