Official pandemic jobless claims pass 40 million
A sign announces a coronavirus closure at a flower shop in Jay, Maine, Thursday, April 16, 2020. Trump is demanding states reopen their economies for business, regardless of the toll in illnesses and death – or of those workers whose jobs will never return. | Robert F. Bukaty/AP

WASHINGTON—More than 40 million people are now jobless thanks to closures resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, after the Labor Department reported 2.173 million more people joined the unemployment rolls in the week ending May 22. And that’s just the official (under) count.

DOL put the official number of jobless since mid-March at 30.957 million. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka previously said it’s really at least 20 million more.

That’s because the pandemic-caused jobless workers must be added to the seven million or so who were unemployed before the coronavirus hit, and the millions more who can’t get through antiquated and overburdened state unemployment systems to file for benefits.

And many of those jobless workers were laid off from businesses, such as restaurants and retail, that will never come back. Depression-caused closures have already forced several major brick-and-mortar retailers – ranging from high-end Neiman Marcus to discounter J.C. Penney – into bankruptcy reorganization, for example.

As bad as the national figures are, the situation in individual states is even worse. An interactive map on the Economic Policy Institute’s website shows more than one-third of workers in Georgia (39%), Kentucky (38%), and Hawaii (35%) have filed for jobless benefits. Just behind are Washington (31%), Louisiana, Nevada and Rhode Island (30% each), Michigan (29%), and Pennsylvania (28%).

The prior week, DOL released its state-by-state jobless numbers for April, the first big month of the pandemic. The actual numbers of unemployed hit new highs in DOL’s state-by-state figures, a tally which first began in 1949, in every state and D.C.

Some of those increases were mind-boggling. Some 2.345 million Californians lost their jobs in April. That’s the equivalent, in one month, of putting almost the entire city of Chicago out of work.

California’s April jobs hemorrhage was so large that job losses there equaled 75% of the job losses in the next two biggest losers, New York (-1.905 million people lost jobs) and Texas (-1.111 million), combined. The cascade of joblessness also left the Golden State with a 15.5% unemployment rate.

Nevada’s 28.2% jobless rate in April led the country and its rate jumped 21.3 percentage points in one month, the largest such hike in the U.S. Just behind were Michigan (22.7%) and Hawaii (22.3%).

Though BLS didn’t say so, the coronavirus pandemic hit three industries those states depend upon extremely hard: Nevada relies on casino employment, Hawaii depends on tourism, and Michiganders make cars. Auto plants were shut, as was the Las Vegas strip. And few people could fly to Hawaii.

EPI analyst David Cooper warns joblessness could get even worse unless Congress steps in to aid states and cities, who are trying to help their residents while their own revenues have cratered as joblessness skyrocketed. They already had to lay off 981,000 workers in April, he noted. That’s more than all the layoffs during the Great Recession a decade ago.

“State and local austerity of the early 2010s was both an unprecedented cutback in public spending following a recession and directly to blame for the slow pace of recovery,” Cooper said.

Almost one-third of the $3 trillion economic stimulus bill House Democrats pushed through earlier this month would go to the state and local governments, and not just to cities over 500,000, either. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has pigeonholed the bill and says the states and cities should declare bankruptcy, letting them fire workers, cut pensions and trash union contracts.

As for the jobless workers, GOP President Donald Trump and his congressional Republican followers have an attitude “that says ‘You’re on your own. We’re not going to help you,’” says Dr. David Michaels, a public health specialist and former Occupational Safety and Health Administrator under Democratic President Barack Obama.

While Michaels was speaking of the Trump OSHA’s attitude towards ensuring worker safety and health and protecting workers from community spread of the virus on the job, his statement could easily apply to Trump’s attitude towards all facets of work.

Instead, Trump is demanding states reopen their economies for business, regardless of the toll in illnesses and death – or of those workers whose jobs will never return.

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee against Trump this fall, had his own comment on Trump, the pandemic, and the depression, via an ad running on social media. It interweaves a bar graph of the constantly rising coronavirus death toll, images of hospital personnel carrying the dead to makeshift morgues, and people in jobless lines, with video of Trump’s main activity Memorial Day weekend: Playing golf.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).