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New claims for unemployment insurance soar to record high

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San José, CA – On Thursday, March 26, the Labor Department reported the new claims for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits rocketed to 3.3 million for the week ending March 21. This was almost five times the previous record of almost 700,000 new claims in October of 1982, when the recession drove the unemployment rate to 10.8%. The number of new claims for UI was 15 times higher than the report just two weeks earlier.

This number certainly understated the number of lost jobs. Many states don’t allow part-time and gig workers, independent contractors, and the self-employed to file for unemployment benefits. Many workers were not able to file as state UI websites crashed and phone lines jammed. Similar numbers or even worse are expected for next week’s report as layoffs continued to mount this week and the backlog of jobless workers who were not able to file grows.

The loss of more than 3 million jobs could increase the official unemployment rate from February’s 3.5% to 5.7% in just one week. This job loss will confirm the beginning of a recession as sales tank as stores close, household income drops and industrial production falls, with auto plants and other manufacturers closing their doors.

But Wall Street ignored the human cost in terms of jobs and sickness of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the United States topping both China and Italy to terms of infections with more than 82,000. Stocks rose for the third day in a row to start a new bull market with the average prices of stocks up more than 20% from the low four days ago.

Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, spoke for the president and Wall Street, saying that the huge unemployment insurance numbers are “not relevant.” Mnuchin is a former Wall Street executive with the investment bank Goldman Sachs, whose wealth was almost half a billion dollars last year.

Mnuchin and Trump, in the daily press briefing, claim the economic bailout bill working its way through Congress would protect people from the economic costs of the pandemic. But Trump’s promises, first that COVID-19 would quickly pass, and now that the economy will recover soon, is starting to sound more and more like President Herbert Hoover’s “prosperity is just around the corner” as the economy sank deeper and deeper into the Great Depression.

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