This morning, the U.S. Department of Labor (pdf) reported that, during the week ending last Saturday, another 4.43 million American workers filed initial claims for unemployment compensation. That’s on top of 5.24 million workers who were laid off during the week ending on 11 April, 6.62 million workers during the week ending 4 April, 6.87 million workers during the week ending 28 March, and another 3.31 million in the previous week.

All told, more than 26 million American workers have filed initial unemployment claims during the past five weeks.

To put that into some kind of perspective, I calculated the initial claims totals for two other relevant 5-week periods: the worst point of the Second Great Depression (encompassing the weeks ending on 7, 14, 21, and 28 March and 4 April 2009) and the weeks immediately preceding the current one (so, 15, 22, and 29 February and 7 and 14 March 2020).

As readers can see in the chart above, the difference is stunning: 3.29 million workers filed initial claims during the worst 5-week period of 2009, 1.15 million from mid-February to mid-March of this year, and 26.45 million in the past five weeks.

Once again, keep in mind, the most recent numbers still don’t include perhaps millions of other American workers, since many states are still addressing backlogs of claims. Masses of workers have been unsuccessful in applying for unemployment insurance because state websites are freezing and their phones are inundated with inquiries.

Moreover, because they’re only initial claims, the numbers also don’t include the 7.1 million American workers who were deemed officially unemployed in early March, before most of the shutdowns started.

Add them together, and the number of workers currently unemployed in the United States is now more than 33 million.* That would mean an American unemployment rate of something on the order of 20.6 percent, which is getting closer and closer to the level (estimated to have been about 25 percent) last seen in the first Great Depression and more than double the highest rate (10 percent) experienced during the Second Great Depression.


*At the highest of levels of unemployment following the 2007-08 crash, there were 15.3 million jobless Americans.

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