Unemployment Claims Soar Over 26 Million Within Five Weeks Amid Pandemic

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New data released from the Department of Labor Thursday shows unemployment claims continuing to skyrocket as nationwide lockdowns meant to curb the spread of the novel Wuhan coronavirus land millions more out of work.

According to the Labor Department, another 4.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week bringing the five-week total to more than 26 million new claims. More than 5.2 million had filed for unemployment the week prior and 6.6 million filed the week before that. In the first week of April, 6.9 million new claims were filed and more than 3.3 million Americans filed between March 15-21. Each week since the start of the Wuhan virus pandemic has shattered the previous record for new unemployment claims filed within a single week set in 1982 with 695,000 new filings.

The United States is now on course to hit between 15 to 20 percent unemployment when new jobs figures are revealed on May 8. The latest national unemployment rate reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics was 4.4 percent in March, before the coronavirus lockdowns had taken much of their toll.

To confront the surge in job losses tied to state and local government-mandated business closures, Congress beefed up unemployment insurance with an extra $600 a week in the roughly $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package passed in late March known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Congress also created the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) offering forgivable low-interest loans to small businesses to keep workers on payroll throughout the crisis. The approximately $350 billion initially set aside for the program however, was exhausted by the end of last week as lawmakers on Capitol Hill scramble to replenish the now-depleted funds.

As it looked increasingly clear that the money was drying up, Senate Republicans had proposed a clean funding bill to allocate an additional $250 billion to sustain the program, only to be blocked by congressional Democrats offering a counterproposal of their own, pushing for money directed to hospitals, local governments and minority communities.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made numerous appearances on cable news to brag about blocking small business relief in front of her $24,000 refrigerator as millions of Americans across the country continued to struggle, claiming unemployment benefits at overwhelmed state offices.

On Tuesday, lawmakers reached a deal with the Senate passing a new $484 billion stimulus package that would replenish the PPP with $310 billion in fresh funds, in addition to allocating funds for hospitals, testing efforts and emergency disaster loans. The House is expected to vote on the legislation Thursday.

Even as the PPP is expected to receive a new round of funding, government lockdowns pushing onward are continuing to wreak havoc on the American economy and will continue to push millions out of work.

Last week, the White House issued non-binding guidelines for states opening back up, recommending states adhere to hitting certain milestones before moving into the subsequent phases of reopening outlined by the administration. President Donald Trump has made clear however, that state governors will have total control over their own timelines.

Six states are already preparing to lift shelter-in-place orders either on or before April 30, including Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, and Alabama.

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