WASHINGTON – The U.S Labor Department said Friday the coronavirus-caused unemployment rate surged to 14.7% in April, a depth of turmoil in the world’s biggest economy not seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s. The jobless rate in March was 4.4%.
As the rate suggests, about one of every six workers in the U.S. labor force of 164.6 million people is currently unemployed, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing factories with thousands of workers to shut their operations, small mom-and-pop-owned shops (small, independent businesses) to close their doors and white-collar offices to lay off workers.
A total of 33.5 million workers have filed for unemployment compensation since mid-March, with a declining number each week over the seven-week period.
The workers looking for jobless benefits are usually paid not quite half of their regular wages. But with the virus tightening its grip on the American economy, the federal government is currently paying unemployed workers an additional $600 a week for the next four months.
Now, President Donald Trump is pushing to reopen the economy, even as he acknowledged this week that more people will die as more individuals leave their homes and return to work.
At least 43 of the 50 U.S. governors have started to slowly reopen their economies even as the coronavirus death toll continues to mount to more than 75,600, a substantially bigger total than in any other country. Some statistical analyses say the U.S. death toll could reach 134,000 by August.
Some governors in recent days have said that hair and nail salons can resume business with stylists wearing face masks. Small shops and restaurants in some communities have reopened. Swarms of people have ventured to Atlantic and Pacific beaches in the last couple of weeks, many of them ignoring orders to wear face masks or maintain two-meter distancing from other people.
Some factories could reopen later in May, although it is not at all clear how manufacturers plan to continue safe distancing when sometimes workers stand close to each other on assembly lines.
But a Washington Post-Ipsos poll showed that a majority of laid-off or furloughed workers — 77 percent — expect to be rehired by their previous employer as local officials ease stay-at-home orders. Nearly six in 10 agreed with the sentiment that they are “very likely” to get their old job back, according to the poll.
The United States said its economy dipped 4.8% in the January-to-March quarter. The coronavirus did not substantially strike the U.S. until mid-March.
Economists are predicting a much bigger drop in the April-to-June quarter, 20% or more, but a substantial rebound in the third quarter.
Some health experts have warned, however, that the coronavirus advance in the U.S. has proven more stubborn than first envisioned.
They say the issue easily could curtail back-to-work efforts for months with no definitive end to the crisis until and unless a coronavirus vaccine is discovered, and millions of Americans are inoculated.