Progressive economists say unemployment rate now 18% as jobless claims hit 26.5 million
A masked worker at this state job center in Pearl, Miss., holds an unemployment benefit application form as she waits for a client, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Total unemployment claims since the economic shutdown have hit 26.5 million, suggesting an unemployment rate of 11%. But the tally of the Economic Policy Institute suggests an actual rate of 18.3%. | Rogelio V. Solis / AP

WASHINGTON—Some 4.43 million more people filed for unemployment insurance in the week ending April 18, the Labor Department announced. That brought the total number of newly jobless in the last month to 26.5 million people, DOL added.

And while one of every nine workers—11%—now get jobless benefits, the Economic Policy Institute calculates the real jobless rate is 18.3% or one in every 5.5 workers.

State jobless rate calculations lag two weeks behind, but that latest DOL data, for the week ending April 4, shows Michigan with the worst rate: 18.4%. The auto industry, then as now, was shut down.

The joblessness, BLS said, all comes from mandated closures designed to help stop community spread of the coronavirus pandemic. As of 10 am on April 23, there were 855,525 people ill from it in the U.S., and 47,992 had died.

“All else equal, job losses of this magnitude would translate into an unemployment rate of 18.3%. However, the official unemployment rate will likely not reflect all coronavirus-related layoffs, because unemployment insurance claims only include people who are actively seeking work,” says EPI Policy Director Heidi Shierholz.

In a change from prior weeks, more of those applicants are finally receiving unemployment checks. Shierholz put that figure at 71%, but that counts only workers who got them as of April 11. She reiterated that economic stimulus packages should extend and expand jobless benefits, among other goals.

The latest one doesn’t.

The House was scheduled to vote April 23 on that measure, worth $484 billion. Of that, $310 billion is earmarked for “small businesses,” a favorite cause on Capitol Hill. Hospitals will get $75 billion. And the measure includes $25 billion for investigating vaccines against the virus.

But the measure, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pushed through on April 21, has nothing for state and local governments whose revenues have collapsed even while the GOP Trump administration dumped the responsibility for coping with jobless claims on them. That drew a blast from AFSCME President Lee Saunders.

“Nurses, corrections officers, paramedics, sanitation workers, and others are putting their health and safety on the line. Are we really going to thank them by issuing them pink slips?” he asked.

And it has nothing more for the jobless workers themselves. Further, McConnell then said there should be “a pause” in further relief for everybody. Including the latest legislation, the government has committed to spending $2.7 trillion to keep the economy afloat.

“Unlike Leader McConnell’s proposal, this bill also includes $100 billion in money to fight the coronavirus itself. We are not going to cure the economic problem unless we cure the health problem. We can give loans to small businesses, but if there are no customers walking the streets to go into their stores, what good is that?” asked Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

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Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.